Three little piglets
1ST YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST BURRITO
Fast, fresh and made your way! That’s what you get at High Tech Burrito. They believe that “the best burrito for you is one custom-made to your tastes.” And what could be more fun than designing your own burrito, with several different choices of beans, rice, salsa, meats, spices and tortillas? The menu doesn’t stop at burritos—they also feature tacos, quesadillas, salads, rice bowls, breakfast items and special items just for kids. This place just might be burrito heaven!
High Tech Burrito
Locations in San Anselmo, Terra Linda, Mill Valley and Novato, hightechburrito.com
1ST YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT
There’s a lot to love at Left Bank, which also snags the win this year for Best Twin Cities Restaurant. An authentic Parisian-style brasserie located in the historic Blue Rock Inn, Left Bank is dedicated to working with local organic farms to bring customers the very best seasonal ingredients available. Hearty dishes featuring natural meats and sustainable seafood can be enjoyed on the restaurant’s sunny terrace, at the lively bar or next to the fireplace.
507 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415/927-3331, leftbank.com
1ST YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANT
If you’re having a yen for Japanese food, then Sushi Ran will satisfy your craving. Well-known throughout Marin County and beyond, the restaurant specializes in creative and classic Japanese sushi and innovative Pacific cuisine. They thrive on innovation and love to find new ways to present culinary creations from the freshest local fish, meats, vegetables and other seasonal ingredients. Passionate about what they do, the people behind Sushi Ran take special delight in introducing their guests to new wines and sake, including surprise pairings with food. Sushi Ran serves lunch and dinner at the restaurant, and they also do onsite and offsite private parties and catering.
107 Caledonia St., Sausalito, 415/332-3620, sushiran.com
1ST YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST TWIN CITIES RESTAURANT
Bruce Hill, owner and chef of Picco in Larkspur, has an amazing résumé, which is why this place is a little hidden gem. He has worked at (or opened) an impressive number of fine restaurants in San Francisco, including Stars, Aqua, Oritalia, Bix and the Waterfront, where he received a Rising Star Chef award by Wine Spectator magazine. Hill likes to cook using local ingredients at the time of year when they are fresh, and designs dishes specifically for the atmosphere of each individual restaurant. Serving up specialties like risotto (made from scratch every half-hour), pan-roasted sole roulade, barbequed wolf ranch quail and other mouth-watering dishes, Picco also features a full bar, private dining rooms and cozy booths in a brick and redwood setting.
320 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415/924-0300, restaurantpicco.com
2ND YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST BURGER
Boogie on down to Phyllis’ Giant Burgers for your next burger fix. Since 1981, this local spot has been serving up mouthwatering burgers—currently, more than 20 kinds—along with corn dogs, chicken, hot dogs and salads. Originally started by Phyllis Larson, the current business is run by James and Michelle Cho. They have won numerous awards for their trucker-sized patties, and due to their amazing success, have opened up several other locations—one in Novato and two in Santa Rosa. The Novato location has five plasma screen TVs, outdoor seating, and serves hard and soft ice cream in a variety of flavors.
Phyllis’ Giant Burgers
2202 Fourth St., San Rafael, 415/456-0866, and other locations, phyllisgiantburgers.com
2ND YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST DELI
It’s all in the name. Comforts offers high-quality, home-style “comfort” food. Since 1986, the deli has been serving homemade breakfast, lunch and dinner items, including the signature and very popular Chinese Chicken Salad. For a quick bite, you can order at the counter and sit at one of the indoor or outdoor cafè tables, and for a more leisurely meal, check out the full-service restaurant. Or you can just get your goodies to go. From savory to sweet, the food at this place has been pleasing customers for years.
335 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo, 415/454-9840, comfortscafe.com
2ND YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT:
Il Davide has been serving up reliably delicious Italian food in a charming environment (inside and outside) in San Rafael for 20 years. That’s quite a record, considering the many turns and tumbles that the economy has experienced over the years. Owner David Haydon says he believes that the longevity is due to consistency, reasonable prices and good service. He adds that everything is very fresh and made with quality ingredients. Haydon has been buying local and sustainable ingredients for years, and even uses sprouts that are grown right in the kitchen! And many on the staff are as loyal as the customers—most of them have been there for years. Look for Haydon’s cookbook, To the Table, coming out in April.
901 A St., San Rafael, 415/454-8080, ildavide.net
2ND YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST NOVATO RESTAURANT
Boca Tavern has landed in the Hall of Fame for the second year in a row. Known for its tastefully seasoned dishes, prepared with only the finest locally grown ingredients, Boca Tavern offers a variety of culinary treats—from savory meats to great seafood, pasta and a full range of tempting appetizers. Dine inside or out on the enclosed patio. And don’t forget to check out their happy hour in the bar—great deals await!
340 Ignacio Blvd., Novato, 415/883-0901, bocatavern.com
2ND YEAR HALL OF FAME: BEST SAN RAFAEL RESTAURANT
Ever wonder why there is always a line out the door at Sol Food? The answer is—authentic, home-cooked Puerto Rican food! Owner Soledad Hernandez has brought her family recipes to this wildly popular San Rafael spot. “Everything is homemade and fresh,” says Wilbert Herrera, who has worked at Sol Food for 10 years doing everything from cashiering to cooking. He says that Hernandez treats employees like family and gives them opportunities to learn lots of different skills. “I work in the best place—OMG,” he says with a laugh. “It is such a happy and lively place, with great food and salsa music. I feel like I am in Puerto Rico!”
903 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael, 415/451-4765, solfoodrestaurant.com
It’s hard to ignore the yummy smells floating out of Rustic Bakery when you’re anywhere near the vicinity of this star bakery. Follow your nose and you’ll find delicious, organic fine foods and baked goods. “Nothing is made ahead of time,” says Nicolas Abrams, culinary director. “We’re baking every morning … baking everything fresh.” Abrams says that the bakery is always striving to find new, local producers who are “at the top of their game.” “We use wonderful local product,” he says, noting both the Petaluma Creamery and the Straus Family Creamery, “and magically turn it into some great pastries.” Rustic features a seasonal board that allows bakers freedom to experiment with seasonal products. But the bakery also offers a core menu that never wavers. “I think we’d be run out of town if we changed that,” Abrams says with a laugh.
Locations in Larkspur and Novato, rusticbakery.com
2ND Arizmendi Bakery & Cafè, San Rafael
3RD Emporio Rulli, Larkspur
Family-owned and operated since 1986, The Half Day Cafè is a first-come, first-serve breakfast joint. If you wake up craving the best, you better hurry down to its quaint location on College Avenue in Kentfield—the restaurant is only open from 7am-2:30pm Monday through Friday, and from 8am-2:30pm Saturday and Sunday. The menu covers the basics: breakfast, brunch and lunch. Chances are that whatever you’re craving for breakfast or lunch has found its way onto Half Day’s menu.
The Half Day Cafè
848 College Ave., Kentfield, 415/459-0291, halfdaycafe.com
2ND Theresa and Johnny’s, San Rafael
3RD Marvin’s Restaurant, Novato
BEST BREW PUB/SPORTS BAR
The Marin Brewing Company opened on April Fool’s Day in 1989, but it was no joke: a brew pub offering the highest-quality brews was born. Serving a full menu until midnight seven nights a week, the bar offers classic pub dishes like fish & chips and bangers & mash, as well as wood-fired pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and salads. A long list of beers includes a Belgian-style ale called the Tiburon Blonde, a fruity ale named the Stinson Beach Peach and the best-selling flagship brew, Mt. Tam Pale Ale. Located in the Marin Country Mart shopping center, this brew pub can be a lifesaver if you’re waiting for shoppers, or for the nearby ferry to San Francisco.
Marin Brewing Company
1809 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, 415/461-4677, marinbrewing.com
2ND Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, Fairfax
3RD Hopmonk Tavern, Novato
One of Marin’s quintessential weekend brunch spots, Dipsea Cafe serves up homestyle breakfasts and lunches in their quaint dining room, and outside on the patio. Opened by John and Cori Siotos in the summer of 1986, it was named for the nearby Dipsea trail, though its original location was in the El Paseo building in downtown Mill Valley. The cafè is known for its huge selection of breakfast delights, including cheese blintzes, waffles, pancakes, egg dishes and homemade pastries “made the old fashioned way … from scratch.” There is truly something for everyone at this beloved eating spot.
200 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley, 415/381-0298, dipseacafe.com
2ND Panama Hotel & Restaurant, San Rafael
3RD Toast, Novato
“Fast food burgers, slow food values.” That’s the motto at Super Duper Burgers, a popular joint that offers 100 percent Niman Ranch all-natural beef—ground fresh every day, free-range chicken breast sandwiches, organic veggie burgers and much more. “It’s super friendly, super fresh, super fun and super clean for sure,” says Edson Palacios, general manager of the Novato location. “The energy is very upbeat,” says Aja Paez, general manager at the Mill Valley location. “It’s an exciting place.” Don’t forget to save room for dessert!: Pies and cookies are baked in-house daily, and Straus organic cream is used in the milkshakes and soft-serve ice cream. “They love it,” Palacios says of the customers. “They drive awhile—they go distances for our food.”
Super Duper Burgers
430 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, 415/380-8555, 5800 Nave Dr., Novato, 415/382-1980, and other locations, superdupersf.com
2ND M & G Burgers, Larkspur
3RD Pearl’s Phat Burgers, Mill Valley
There are burritos, and then there are Taqueria Mi Pueblo burritos. And don’t get yourself signed up for an eating contest with their macho burritos—they are seriously huge. Customer reviews include comments like, “Get the macho burrito, several salsas, fresh chips and a root beer. You won’t need to eat until tomorrow,” and “It’s amazing, and enough to feed an army. I always have to convince myself that I would die if I had two in one sitting.” For a menu full of the usual (and not so usual) Mexican favorites, four beers on tap and quick and easy take-out, head there for a taste of La Buena Vida.
Taqueria Mi Pueblo
208 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, 415/460-1027
2ND Avatar’s, Sausalito, Mill Valley, Larkspur and Fairfax
3RD Grilly’s, Mill Valley and Fairfax
What makes Stacy Scott the best caterer in Marin? Evidently, it’s her street cred—the party-planner-turned-chef has no website or social media, and only lists a telephone number and email address for contact. But that didn’t discourage her following from voting her the Best of Marin. When asked to describe herself and her staff, Scott says, “We’re established, but we’re on trend; we’re youthful, but we’re experienced.” Scott has tackled parties of all sizes, from former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s party of 4,500 people, to more intimate and low-key events. “We seem to have found a sweet spot as far as food,” says Scott, noting that nearly 80 percent of her customers don’t request to see a menu prior to the event. Self-taught with a vivacious soul, Scott is no stranger to getting the party started.
2ND Comforts, San Anselmo
3RD Forks and Fingers, Novato
BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT
Despite being in business for 29 years—not to mention receiving the Best Chinese Restaurant award—Jennie Low’s Chinese Cuisine insists, “We don’t do anything special.” After 20 years of teaching Chinese cooking in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Jennie grew up and raised her family, she opened her first restaurant serving home-style Chinese food in Mill Valley. “It’s like comfort food; people order the same thing over and over again,” Low explains. Now with locations in Novato and Petaluma (Mill Valley has closed), her restaurants feature traditional dishes from many regions of China, and include Cantonese, Mandarin, Szechuan and Hunan. At 75, Low still personally oversees the preparation and cooking, and isn’t afraid to confess, “I don’t like Chinese food; I like pasta.”
Jennie Low’s Chinese Cuisine
Vintage Oaks Mall, 120 Vintage Way, Novato, 415/892-8838, jennielow.com
2ND Ping’s Mandarin Restaurant, San Rafael
3RD DJ Chinese Cuisine, Larkspur
Twenty-five years ago, a family began to build a business that has proven to be an extension of itself. Michael’s Sourdough Sandwiches founder Jole Braun infuses her Italian family’s flair for flavor in between in-house, handmade sourdough. Coraddo Fabbro, who has been in charge of the Novato location since 1996, says, “The truth of the testimonies is in the taste.” Without a single advertising dollar spent, Michael’s Sourdough Sandwiches is Marin’s best deli by word-of-mouth, and is only open during lunch. Local favorites include the chicken pesto, turkey bacon club, Cordonbleu and French dip. Meat is roasted on the premises and seasoned with Braun’s own family’s blend of spices. You can order online to pick up.
Michael’s Sourdough Sandwiches
3095 Kerner Blvd., #L, San Rafael, 415/485-0964 and 42 Digital Dr., #8, Novato, 415/883-5110, michaelssourdough.com
2ND Tagliaferri’s Delicatessen & Cafè, Novato
3RD Miller’s East Coast Deli, San Rafael
BEST DIVE BAR
Casually sipping a Coors Light, Kevin Burd, maintenance man and former bartender at the Silver Peso, describes what sets the esteemed dive bar apart from the others that exist in Marin. And, no, it’s not the three pool tables, library of books, couch, pinball machine, jukebox or popcorn machine. “It’s the no-care attitude of the place,” Burd says. The Peso, as most regulars refer to it, opened more than 100 years ago as a carriage shop. The locale is still adorned with some of its original furnishings—including that addictive shuffleboard table that you may (or may not) remember playing for hours straight. Burd credits the “hodgepodge mix of people” as what makes the Peso a happenin’ place to be—“White-collar people, engineers, businessmen, blue-collar—anyone shows up,” he says. “It’s a great melting pot.”
450 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415/924-3448
2ND The Mayflower Pub, San Rafael
3RD Flatiron, San Rafael
BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT
Bruno Denis and Olivier Souvestre opened Le Garage Bistro together in April of 2008. Born in Brittany, France, Olivier moved to San Francisco in 2005 and worked as the executive chef at Chez Papa Bistrot, where he met Denis. A native of Versailles, France, general manager Denis has been working in the restaurant industry for the past 10 years in San Francisco. Simple French bistro-style food is prepared in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. And brunch is effortlessly decadent, consisting of such delicacies as the classic croque monsieur, duck confit, quiche lorraine and the seven-hour house-made ham sandwich.
Le Garage Bistro
85 Liberty Ship Way, #109, Sausalito, 415/332-5625, legaragebistro.com
2ND Le Chalet Basque, San Rafael
3RD Marche aux Fleurs, Ross
BEST FROZEN YOGURT
Get your yogurt fix the old-fashioned way at Woody’s Yogurt Place in Mill Valley, one of the last frozen yogurt shops that is not self-serve. Brian Woodson, night manager and son of the owner, believes that personally serving customers yogurt makes the business unique and helps them stand out. And, of course, buying high-quality ingredients doesn’t hurt either. Customers love the fact that Woody’s carries dairy-free selections, along with Mr. Smith’s Custard, a soft, frozen treat served right out of the machine. Truly a family-friendly place, the shop regularly donates ice cream for free ice cream socials at local schools. “It is so rewarding to interact with the kids, parents and teachers,” Woodson says. “I love seeing the kids get so excited—it’s so cool.”
Woody’s Yogurt Place
802 Strawberry Village, Mill Valley, 415/383-4881, woodysyogurtplace.com
2ND Tuttimelon, Novato
3RD Swirl Frozen Yogurt, San Anselmo
BEST HAPPY HOUR
It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right? That’s what Boca Tavern will have you asking with its decadent and delicious happy hour menu. It starts with the drinks—like a classic margarita with fresh lime—but it doesn’t stop there. Samplings from the restaurant can be found at nearly half the price, which might, dare we say, make it doubly as delicious. Hop, skip, jog or drive down to Boca Tavern the next time you’re looking for a cheap and satisfying cocktail.
340 Ignacio Blvd., Novato, 415/ 883-0901, bocasteak.com
2ND Terrapin Crossroads, San Rafael
3RD Hopmonk Tavern, Novato
BEST ICE CREAM
When I ask Fairfax Scoop owner Ray Martin why he thinks he’s won the award for best ice cream, his answer is simple: “We use really good ingredients.” Straus organic milk, Marshall’s Farm Honey from Fairfax and Wood Lane Farm lavender sourced from a local resident compose the Scoop’s—as it’s commonly known—signature, equally simple flavor: Vanilla Honey Lavender. Ironically enough, Martin admits that he’s not much of an ice cream-eater himself, but that his two kids are. And it was the birth of his second child that prompted him to leave his former job as a restaurant owner in Walnut Creek to open Marin’s favorite scoop shop 14 years ago. Dedicated to sourcing locally, Martin says that the most popular varieties are the limited seasonal fruit flavors—pumpkin in the fall, peach in the summer, apricot in May, pomegranate in November and blackberry in August.
63 Broadway Blvd., Fairfax, 415/453-3130
2ND Three Twins Ice Cream, Larkspur and San Rafael
3RD Lappert’s Ice Cream, Sausalito
BEST INDEPENDENT COFFEE HOUSE
Looking for a dose of caffeine? Dr. Insomniac’s Fine Coffee, Tea, Smoothies & Café is the ticket. This quaint coffee house, which carries coffee from Kenya, Colombia, Jamaica and other faraway lands, will add a skip to your step. And with 100 percent real fruit puree smoothies that range from the “Surf Rider” to the “Caribbean Cruise,” this place will help all of your worries melt away. If you’re in a hurry, no need to worry! You can easily text in your order and pick it up with curbside delivery.
Dr. Insomniac’s Fine Coffee, Tea, Smoothies & Café
800 Grant Ave., Novato, 415/897-9500, drinsomniacs.com
2ND Emporio Rulli, Larkspur
3RD Aroma Cafè, San Rafael
BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT
When you need to satisfy that irresistible craving for Indian food, jump on your elephant and head for Lotus Cuisine of India in San Rafael. Owner Surinder “Pal” Sroa and his family members share the exotic recipes and spices of India that they grew up with, in a charming and cozy setting with Indian decor. They have received lots of accolades over the years, and are even Zagat-rated. In 2013, they completely renovated the place and are now a certified green business serving the finest organic Indian food. Sroa also strongly believes in giving back to the community. Every Thanksgiving, they serve free dinners to anyone who shows up. Last year they served more than 1,000 dinners. “This is very good for your karma,” Sroa says. It’s a tradition he learned from his parents.
Lotus Cuisine of India
704 Fourth St., San Rafael, 415/ 456-5808, lotusrestaurant.com
2ND Cafè Lotus, Fairfax
3RD Taj of Marin, San Rafael
BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
If you haven’t already been there, it’s high time to check out La Toscana Ristorante & Bar. After 28 years of business, the Italian restaurant completed major renovations for a chic and welcoming ambiance that beautifully complements Italian favorites like bruschetta and carbonara. A family-owned business, La Toscana is run by the Mori family, who grew up in Lucca, Italy, and “wanted to create an atmosphere that reminded them of home.” Stop by for an authentic taste of Italy.
La Toscana Ristorante & Bar
3751 Redwood Hwy., San Rafael, 415/ 492-9100, ristorantelatoscana.com
2ND Il Fornaio, Corte Madera
3RD Poggio, Sausalito
BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANT
With a name like Sushi to Dai For, you better be good—and they are! This popular sushi spot on Fourth Street in San Rafael is bustling, and that’s not because of a lack of competition. “I love sushi and this place absolutely brings the freshest I have ever had, other than cleaning a fish on a boat and eating there on the ocean,” says one happy customer. Sip on a sake with your sushi or choose from other Japanese dishes on the menu—either at the sushi bar, or at a table.Special requests are accommodated with a smile. “Been coming here for years for all kinds of events,” says another customer. “They are often busy, always on top of it, and consistently excellent in terms of flavor, presentation and overall experience.”
Sushi to Dai For
816 Fourth St., San Rafael, 415/721-0392, sushitodaifor.net
2ND Taki Japanese Restaurant, Novato
3RD Sushi 69, San Anselmo
BEST LOCAL BREWERY
“We’re probably one of the fastest growing breweries in the U.S.,” says Lewis Norvell of Lagunitas Brewing Company. How do they do it? “Keep on keepin’ on,” says Nina Anguiano. Beer-lovers in Northern California—and those who flock here from afar for a taste of the huge selection of regular and seasonal beers—find a haven at the brewery’s Petaluma tap room, where there’s also a mini, dog-friendly amphitheater that features free music shows. “Bluegrass, Americana, some jazz, some funk, a little bit of rock and roll,” says Anguiano. “Just enough rock and roll … a little bit of everything.” The brewery offers daily tours, regularly hosts fundraisers for nonprofits and makes thousands of donations each year. “Our owner loves to give back,” Norvell says. With new beers coming out constantly, and a brand new brewery in Chicago, Lagunitas is spreading the love. “They enjoy the vibe,” says Ben Holman, of the brewery’s visitors. “I call it a mini Disneyland for adults.”
Lagunitas Brewing Company
1280 North McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707/769-4495, and a Chicago location, lagunitas.com
2ND Marin Brewing Company, Larkspur
3RD Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, Fairfax
BEST LOCAL WINERY
Really—a winery in Novato? Trek Winery is family-owned and operated, and the creators say, “It was a way to blend our love for outdoor exploration with our love for making great wine.” Established in 2007, the Podshadley family already had 17 years of (amateur) wine-making experience. Steady growth led to an opening of the tasting room and wine-making facility in downtown Novato. In addition to their signature wines, they offer weekly live entertainment, including music and stand-up comedy, and offer a beautiful space for private events.
1026 Machin Ave., Novato, 415/899-9883, trekwine.com
2ND Cazadero Winery, Healdsburg
3RD Point Reyes Vineyard Inn and Winery, Point Reyes Station
BEST MEAL UNDER $20
Let’s face it—eating out can be really expensive, especially if you don’t want the food to taste like marinated cardboard. So when you find a place where the food is great and affordable, and also has a fun atmosphere, well that’s pretty sweet. And that’s—Sol Food! Served with the sound of salsa beats in the background, the food (breakfast, lunch and dinner is offered) at this local favorite spot includes soup, sandwiches, combination plates, dessert and drinks—all with the real taste of Puerto Rican home-cooking.
903 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael, 415/451-4765, solfoodrestaurant.com
2ND Crepevine, San Rafael
3RD Lotus Cuisine of India, San Rafael
BEST MEDITERRANEAN RESTAURANT
Insalata’s, which also wins this year as the Best Ross Valley Restaurant, is a local gem. “What makes us special, I think, is the consistency of the food and the service,” says manager Beth Casey. The restaurant, which features everything from hummus with warm pita to Cataplana Manila clams, is known for welcoming longtime customers, as well as new customers who have heard that this is the place to be. The weekly pre-fix menu is a favorite, and a winemaker series keeps things new and exciting. Insalata’s strives to make everyone feel welcome at the table.
120 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo
2ND Picco, Larkspur
3RD Falafel Hut, San Rafael
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
For a real taste of Mexico, visit Taqueria Mi Pueblo in San Anselmo. Frequented and loved by locals, the taqueria offers Mexican football on the big screen while you enjoy authentic south-of-the-border dishes. Start with chips and homemade salsa, and then try a barbeque chicken taco with mole sauce, a carnitas tostada or a tamale. Consistent quality and good value keep customers coming back for years. And if you don’t have time to dine, call in your order and dash in for a quick pick-up. Whether you’re looking for an appetizer or a large combo plate, this place is muy bueno!
Taqueria Mi Pueblo
208 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, 415/460-1027
2ND Celia’s Mexican Restaurant, San Rafael
3RD Joe’s Taco Lounge & Salsaria, Mill Valley
BEST MILL VALLEY RESTAURANT
Since its opening in 1937, Buckeye Roadhouse has always considered fine dining to be important. The country-style dining area is warm and welcoming, with vaulted ceilings and a river-rock fireplace. Fresh local ingredients are used to create the most divine dishes with a “California contemporary twist,” like their well-known oysters bingo and house-smoked barbecue baby-back ribs. They also offer coffee at their drive-by coffee shop, Buckeye Joe, located right next to the restaurant. So you don’t have to look too far for some post-meal caffeine.
15 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley, 415/331-6200, buckeyeroadhouse.com
2ND Piatti, Mill Valley
3RD Piazza D’Angelo Ristorante, Mill Valley
BEST NEW RESTAURANT 2014
“Real barbeque is about protein and smoke and heat from a low fire, and about cooking with wood,” says Damon Stainbrook, owner and chef at the 8-month-old Pig in a Pickle. “It’s not about the sauce.” Stainbrook, who grew up in Corte Madera, and who has cooked at The French Laundry and the (former) Lark Creek Inn, says that he’s always liked barbeque. The place has become very popular, and one of his secrets is keeping the menu very simple. He also strives to use high-quality products, and pays a lot of attention to detail. “The meat is always fresh because the smoker is going all the time, which is really important for quality,” he says. Stop by for some mouthwatering favorites like smoked beef brisket, “Hill Natural” baby back ribs or pulled pork shoulder.
Pig in a Pickle
341 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera, 415/891-3265, piginapicklebbq.com
2ND Uchiwa Ramen, San Rafael
3RD Molina, Mill Valley
BEST NOVATO RESTAURANT
What makes Finnegan’s Marin Novato’s best restaurant? “In a word—options,” says general manager Dara Stone. This Irish-inspired restaurant has managed to expand on traditional pub fare to include ribs, ribeyes and Stone’s personal favorite, cobb salad. Owner Henry Hautau, grandson of Patrick Finnegan, wanted to recreate the warmth of his family’s original 1980s watering hole—a neighborhood pub in northern New Jersey. Today, half-price bottles of wine on Thursdays, late-night food on Fridays and Saturdays and live musical entertainment make Finnegan’s a complete dining experience.
877 Grant Ave., Novato, 415/899-1516, finnegansmarin.com
2ND Tie: Wild Fox Restaurant, Novato, and Hilltop 1892, Novato
BEST ORGANIC/SUSTAINABLE RESTAURANT
Rustic Bakery, which also takes the cake this year for Marin’s Best Bakery, is committed to sourcing locally to produce organic fine foods and baked goods. Boasting a regular menu that never changes, as well as a seasonal menu, Rustic offers fun and exciting dishes like a Mediterranean salad in the summer, a Barcelona salad in the winter and a fall harvest salad. “[Customers] love it because of the freshness,” says Nicolas Abrams, Rustic’s culinary director. “We’re always researching and reading and seeing what’s trending.” Abrams, who says that he loves getting creative with food and collaborating with the owners, says that sometimes when he’s out in public, he feels like he’s being chased. “I love Rustic,” people tell him. “You guys are doing a great job … keep it up.” “It’s a great feeling,” Abrams says.
Locations in Larkspur and Novato, rusticbakery.com
2ND Picco, Larkspur
3RD Marinitas, Novato
Editor’s Note: Insalata’s, which wins this year in the category of Best Mediterranean Restaurant, was voted the Best Organic/Sustainable Restaurant for the second year in a row, but declined to accept the title. Owner Heidi Krahling says that she is honored to have been voted the best by readers, but declines the award because although Insalata’s strives to be organic and sustainable, the restaurant is not 100 percent organic and sustainable.
Take another little pizza your heart at Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur. Their pies are crafted in the traditional Neapolitan thin-crust style, and hand-stretched and cooked in their own wood-burning pizza ovens. San Francisco-based owner and chef Bruce Hill (who also runs the more upscale “Picco” next door), uses only the finest-quality ingredients from local farmers and producers, and the fresh mozzarella is pulled in-house. Their menu also features organic salads, a daily soup and Straus soft-serve ice cream. Wash it all down with a large selection of local and international beer and wine—Mamma Mia!
316 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415/ 945-8900, www.pizzeriapicco.com
2ND Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria, San Rafael
3RD Mulberry Street Pizzeria, San Rafael
BEST ROSS VALLEY RESTAURANT
San Anselmo’s Insalata’s has been bringing scrumptious tastes of the Mediterranean to Marin since 1996. Opened by Heidi and Mark Krahling, this community staple offers upscale food and service in a warm atmosphere, with touches like fresh flowers and vibrant art. “The great thing about our customers is that we feel like they’re part of our family,” says Beth Casey, manager at Insalata’s. “We know their names when they come in, where they like to sit, what they like to drink.” The philosophy, she says, is hospitality driven by genuine kindness. Casey says that Heidi is a beacon of the community, passionate about food and constantly trying to improve everything. “Even though she’s the owner, she’s in the kitchen every day,” Casey says. As for what Casey hopes for when guests walk into Insalata’s? “For them to say those three magic words—‘We’ll be back,’” she says. “And then we know that we did the right thing.”
120 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, 415/457-7700, insalatas.com
2ND Marinitas, San Anselmo
3RD 123 Bolinas, Fairfax
BEST SAN RAFAEL RESTAURANT
If it’s authentic charm and Italian hospitality you’re after, La Toscana Ristorante and Bar won’t disappoint. The restaurant was established in 1985 by Paolo Mori, his wife, Marilyn, and Michele Quilici, and the owners—who all grew up in Lucca, Italy—wanted to create a place that reminded them of home. After undergoing major renovations in January of 2014, the popular restaurant greets customers with a more modern and vibrant atmosphere. And it’s no wonder that this restaurant has also won Best Italian Restaurant in Marin—According to one review, the cannelloni and tortellini entrees are “heavenly.” The family-run business aims to carry on the proud tradition of gathering with family and friends to celebrate with food and wine.
La Toscana Ristorante & Bar
3751 Redwood Blvd., San Rafael, 415/492-9100, ristorantelatoscana.com
2ND Il Davide, San Rafael
3RD Panama Hotel and Restaurant, San Rafael
BEST SAUSALITO/TIBURON RESTAURANT
With an 11-year history and a menu full of 40-plus items, Poggio has become one of Sausalito’s most beloved dining spots. How did the trattoria wind up bringing a little bit of Italy to Sausalito? Owner Larry Mindel was approached by someone from Casa Madrona during their renovations, and since Mindel was already eager to have a “special spot” of his own in Sausalito—the rest is history. The restaurant uses local ingredients, and even has its own organic garden. “It all comes from our garden when it’s available,” says Amy Svendberg, managing partner of Poggio. She names sage, rosemary, arugula and basil as some of the garden’s staples.
777 Bridgeway, Sausalito, 415/ 332-7771, poggiotrattoria.com
2ND Sushi Ran, Sausalito
3RD Le Garage Bistro, Sausalito
BEST SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
With its beautiful waterfront location, Fish is not just another pretty face! The restaurant is “completely dedicated to sustainable seafood and organic produce, bought locally from the people who work so hard to bring the season’s best to our doors.” This place is passionate about sustainable fishing—they received the Sustainable North Bay Award from the California Legislature for their “commitment to wild fish populations and helping the local economy by supporting local fishermen.” And of course it’s all about the fresh fish, grilled over a wood fire. The menu also includes pasta, salads and a kid’s menu with—are you ready for this?—a peanut butter and jelly fish sandwich!
350 Harbor Dr., Sausalito, 415/331-3474, 331fish.com
2ND Nick’s Cove, Marshall
3RD The Seafood Peddler, Sausalito
BEST THAI RESTAURANT
Owner and chef, Jamie Disyamonthon, was visiting some friends in the Bay Area in 1984 and fell in love, like many do, with its unparalleled beauty. She and her husband, Pat, were already interested in opening a business, and thus Royal Thai was born. Housed in a beautiful San Rafael house and decorated in Thai style, Royal Thai offers a cozy and welcoming setting for an authentic Thai meal. Disyamonthon employs a staff of around 15 people, but she still works seven days a week—using all-natural meats and ingredients from the local farmers’ markets. The extensive menu includes monthly specials that change at the chef’s discretion, depending on the season. “It’s made with love,” she says. “All of the recipes come from my family.”
610 Third St., San Rafael, 415/485-1074, royalthaisanrafael.com
2ND My Thai, San Rafael and Novato
3RD Thep Lela Thai Restaurant, Mill Valley
BEST TWIN CITIES RESTAURANT
You’ll feel like an American in Paris, stepping into the Left Bank. Located in the historic Blue Rock Inn, the brasserie opened in 1994. French cuisine, such as tarte lyonnaise, salad nicoise, soupe d’oignons, escargots and creme brulee, suits the tastes of gourmands and naive palates alike, and is served with casual ease. Left Bank caters to elegant occasions in its private dining room, afternoon snacking on the sunny terrace or a special dinner near the fireplace. Chef de cuisine Fabrice Marcon works with local organic farms and brings in the best seasonal ingredients available. Brunch with bubbles and the happy hour at the bar come highly recommended.
507 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415/927-3331, leftbank.com
2ND Marin Joe’s Restaurant, Corte Madera
3RD Il Fornaio, Corte Madera
BEST WEST MARIN RESTAURANT
Experience the best that West Marin has to offer at Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Dine inside and enjoy the nostalgic charm of an upscale hunting lodge, or stay warm and cozy outside on their glass-covered deck. Either way, sit back and enjoy the tranquil view of Drakes Bay while you dine. And you can expect some spectacular food here, too. Chef Austin Perkins’ cuisine is inspired by and sourced from local dairy and produce farms, and the fresh seafood of Tomales Bay, and he uses a true farm-to-table approach—hearty and also elegant.Wash it all down with something from the list of outstanding local beer and wine. Management and staff at Nick’s Cove are dedicated to providing their guests with not only a great meal, but also with a memorable experience.
Nick’s Cove Restaurant and Oyster Bar
23240 Highway One, Marshall, 415/663-1033, nickscove.com
2ND Pelican Inn, Muir Beach
3RD Tie: Parkside Cafè, Stinson Beach, and Two Bird Cafè, San Geronimo
BEST WINE BAR
“We wanted a place in Fairfax that felt like an extension of a living room,” says 23-year Marin resident Jeff Mahaney. Part restaurant, part wine bar, 123 Bolinas offers a laid-back lounge feel with sustainably and locally sourced organic food. “We have a long history of drinking wine,” says co-owner Jacquelyn Mahaney, who moved to the Bay Area from Italy when she was 14 years old. Every wine served is local, and sourced from labels of 200 cases or less. Executive chef Brittney Adamo creates a decidedly ingredient-driven menu from farmers’ market vendors to maintain seasonal dishes. From the ambiance, to the food, to the local brew house beer, everything at 123 Bolinas feels familiar.
123 Bolinas St., Fairfax, 415/488 5123, 123bolinas.com
2ND Trek Winery, Novato
3RD Vin Antico, San Rafael