Best of Marin 2016: Food & Drink

“It’s hard to be creative and it’s also hard not to think what you do is creative or hard not to be called creative because everybody is always talking about that and individuality,” Warhol once said.

The eccentric artist would have had a field day in his studio with all things food and drink in Marin County. Fresh fruits and vegetables from the Marin Farmers’ Market would replace cans of Campbell’s Soup, Johnny Doughnuts baked goods would make for a mouthwatering diptych and Tyler Florence—the county’s Best Chef, and Stacy Scott—Marin’s Best Caterer—might pose for a Marilyn Monroe-esque portrait. And if Warhol were on an all-night painting bender? Smoky barbeque from Pig in a Pickle to the rescue.—Molly Oleson

By Stett Holbrook

Giddy up

There isn’t really any competition in the Best Cheese Shop category, is there? Cowgirl Creamery is the place for cheese in Marin County—and I dare say the entire Bay Area. Heck, sometimes I go in there just to look and breathe in all of those cheesy aromas. As good as the cheese is, Cowgirl is more than a cheese shop. Founders Sue Conley and Peggy Smith conceived of their business in 1997 as a way to celebrate local cheesemakers and dairies (back then, just Straus Family Creamery, Joe Matos Cheese Factory, Bellwether Farms and Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery), and help keep local agriculture alive. And it’s worked. Cowgirl Creamery was the catalyst for a new generation of West Marin food purveyors working to keep the area’s agriculture thriving. It all started with cheese. Red Hawk and Mt. Tam are classics, but the shop pulls in around 60 cheeses from far and wide. If you want to rub it in to your Midwestern relatives, take them here.

80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station; 415/663-9335.

Burrito fix

Having been raised on carne asada burritos in San Francisco’s Mission District, I have what I think are high standards when it comes to burritos. I want them to be big—big enough so that first I think there’s no way I could finish it, then somehow do. I want them rolled properly in foil so they don’t fall apart in my hands and into my lap. And I want my burritos made with military-precision speed. If you can’t get to the Mission for your burrito fix, then High Tech Burrito, winner of Best Burrito, is the next best thing. They check all of the boxes. In fact, call me a heretic, but they might even be better than a Mission District burrito, given the variety of non-Mexican—but no less delicious—fillings they offer, like Thai peanut sauce, yellow curry and teriyaki. And I like the online ordering app, too. It makes good-quality fast food even faster.

484 Las Gallinas Road, San Rafael; 415/526-2188; 118 Strawberry Village, Mill Valley; 415/388-7002.

Perfect perch

There is an inverse relationship between the quality of a restaurant’s view and the quality of the food. The better the view, the worse the food. But I’m happy to say that Hilltop 1892 is the exception to the rule. From its perch above Novato, the once-private estate built in—yes, you guessed it—1892, offers 360 degrees of beautiful views of Marin County, the bay and beyond. Grab a cocktail from the excellent bar and savor the sight. Chef Todd Davies’ food matches the pretty scene. The “California country” menu draws on modern classics like red curry mussels, ahi spring rolls and crab cakes. Main courses like pan-roasted salmon, Kobe steak and frites and braised short ribs seal the deal. And don’t miss the duck-fat fries at this Best Restaurant with a View.

850 Lamont Ave., Novato; 415/893-1892.

Cozy cove

The food at Nick’s Cove is mixed. When the kitchen tries to get fancy, it can stumble. Best bets are the basics: Burgers, sandwiches and, of course, oysters. Always get the oysters, raw or cooked. But Nick’s is about more than the food. The setting on the windward side of Tomales Bay is unrivaled. If it’s rainy and windy, there’s no better place to be than inside, cozy and warm, as storms sweep across the bay’s waters. Sunny days are even better. The bar fairly oozes tales of drinkers and revelers from times gone by. Walk out on the pier and head to the boat shack at the end with a beverage of choice in hand and attempt to take it all in—the sights, the smells, the history, the beauty of it all. (I recently got a clothing catalogue in the mail that used the pier for its photo shoot.) Nick’s Cove is certainly the Best Beach Restaurant in Marin County, but it’s so much more. And what that is depends on who you are, where you’ve been and what Nick’s means to you. Go and make some memories.

23240 Hwy. 1, Marshall; 415/663-1033.

Got soul

Best Meal Under $20? Sure, I give Sol Food that. I’d also say that it’s one of the few restaurants I’d wait in line for. And come during the weekend or prime-time weekday lunch or pretty much anytime really, and you’re going to wait. That’s because Sol Food isn’t just a good value; it’s great food served in a lively atmosphere. And you won’t have to wait long. These folks know what they’re doing and somehow keep things moving when there’s a crowd—which is always. I’m a fan of the pollo al horno, tangy roasted chicken thighs marinated with oregano and garlic. It comes with rice, beans, a salad and a choice of French fries or fried platanos (get a little of both). The nap-inducing meal will set you back $15.75, with a few leftovers. For something a little lighter, go for the chuleton sandwich, a pan-fried pork chop with sautéed onions, jack cheese and mayo ($10.95). Wash it all down with a cold glass of ponche, half mango ice tea and half limeade. It’s worth the wait and your hard-earned dollars.

401 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; 415/380-1986; 901 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael; 415/451-4765.

Above and beyond

Fish is everything a fish restaurant should be. It’s on the water, it’s unpretentious and it serves an extensive menu of expertly prepared, fresh-from-the-water fish. Fish, winner of Best Seafood, goes beyond the usual suspects. A recent special featured fried halibut cheeks (kind of like a filet mignon of the sea). There are fish tacos made with whatever’s fresh and best. There’s a heaping Dungeness crab roll. (It’s OK to eat Dungeness now, so do it and support your local crabber.) And check out the Portuguese red chowder made with tomatoes, linguica, clams and smoked paprika. The best thing about Fish is that all of the fish (and shellfish) comes from sustainable sources. That’s something few restaurants can say. In fact, state legislators gave Fish the Sustainable North Bay Award in honor of the restaurant’s commitment to protecting wild fish populations and supporting local fishermen. What else could you want? Guinness and HenHouse Oyster Stout on tap? They’ve got that, too.

350 Harbor Drive, Sausalito; 415/331-3474.

Brew, baby, brew

There’s a certain brewery that uses a dog on the label, used to call Lagunitas home base and sucks up a lot of attention in the North Bay. They make some good brews, but Marin County has many other fine beer producers that deserve recognition. Iron Springs Pub & Brewery in Fairfax flies a little lower on the radar. But that (and its brews) is what makes this winner of Best Microbrew cool. The pub has a great neighborhood appeal. Out now is the Moonwalker Spring Bock seasonal brew, a strong (6.8 percent ABV) golden ale. While it’s all about IPAs these days and Iron Springs makes some excellent ones, it’s nice to see something other than boozy, hop bombs like Iron Spring’s easy-drinking Screaming Eagle lager, weighing in at just 3 percent ABV. Have two! Great live music at the pub is the perfect accompaniment to whatever you’re drinking.   

765 Center Blvd., Fairfax; 415/485-1005.

Shake sugaree

It’s kind of funny that a restaurant that prides itself on earnest, farm-focused cuisine gets the nod for Best Cocktails. To be sure, the food is good, but it competes with what’s shaking at the bar. And what a bar it is. It stretches pretty much the whole width of the place. It’s an adult candy store of booze, with lights dimmed pleasantly low. What’s good to drink? Every winter I think that I should invent a maple syrup cocktail. Too late. Farmshop’s mixmasters beat me to it with the Maple Heist: Templeton rye, lemon juice, maple syrup, egg whites and bitters. Check out the rootsy Real Roots, Amaro Montenegro, Rittenhouse rye and lemon juice mixed with ginger beer and rhubarb bitters. And I love Farmshop’s take on the Paloma When Doves Cry. It’s got Milagro silver tequila, grapefruit and lime, Squirt soda, smoked salt and grapefruit foam. And now it tastes bittersweet with the passing of the Purple One.  

2233 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur; 415/755-6700.

The full list of Best of Marin 2016 Food & Drink winners:

Best Bakery/Cafe

Rustic Bakery

1139 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur; 415.925.1556; Marin Country Mart, 2017 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur; 415.461.9900; 1407 Grant Ave., Novato; 415.878.4952.

Best Cheese Shop

Cowgirl Creamery

80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station.

415.669.9335.

Best Farmers’ Market

Marin Farmers’ Market

3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael.

415.472.6100.

Best Coffee Shop

Equator Coffees & Teas

244 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley; 415.209.3733; 2 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; 415.383.1651.

Best Diner

Shoreline Coffee Shop

221 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley.

415.388.9085.

Best Breakfast

Marvin’s Restaurant

1112 Grant Ave., Novato.

415.892.4482.

Best Brunch

Half Day Cafe

848 College Ave., Kentfield.

415.459.0291.

Best Business Lunch

Buckeye Roadhouse

15 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley.

415.331.2600.

Best Food Truck

Johnny Doughnuts

1617 Fourth St., San Rafael.

415.450.1866.

Best Deli

Inverness Park Market & Deli

12301 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness Park.

415.663.1491.

Best Burger

Phyllis’ Giant Burgers

2202 Fourth St., San Rafael; 415.456.0866; 924 Diablo Ave., Novato; 415.898.8294.

Best Barbeque

Pig in a Pickle

341 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera.

415.891.3265.

Best Burrito

High Tech Burrito

484 Las Gallinas Road, San Rafael.

415.526.2188.

118 Strawberry Village, Mill Valley.

415.388.7002.

914-A Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo; 415.455.9176.

Best Pizzeria

Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria

1242 Fourth St., San Rafael.

415.455.9777.

Best Neighborhood Restaurant

Finnegan’s Marin

877 Grant Ave., Novato.

415.899.1516.

Best Restaurant with a View

Hilltop 1892

850 Lamont Ave., Novato.

415.893.1892.

Best Waterfront Restaurant

The Spinnaker

100 Spinnaker Drive, Sausalito.

415.332.1500.

Best Beach Restaurant

Nick’s Cove

23240 Hwy. 1, Marshall.

415.663.1033.

Best New Restaurant Opened in 2015

Village Sake

19 Bolinas Road, Fairfax.

415.5241.5790.

Best Natural/Sustainable Restaurant

Cafe del Soul

1408 Fourth St., San Rafael.

415.457.5400.

247 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley.

415.388.1852.

Best Outdoor Dining

Sam’s Anchor Café

27 Main St., Tiburon.

415.435.4527.

Best Romantic Dinner

The Caprice

2000 Paradise Drive, Tiburon.

415.435.3400.

Best Spot to Dine Solo

Aroma Cafe

1122 Fourth St., San Rafael.

415.459.4340.

Best Dining after 10pm

Marin Joe’s

1585 Casa Buena Drive, Corte Madera.

415.924.2081.

Best Meal Under $20

Sol Food

401 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

415.380.1986.

903 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael.

415.451.4765.

Best Chef

Tyler Florence, El Paseo

17 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley.

415.388.0741.

Best Caterer

Stacy Scott Caterers

415.299.2503.

Best Chinese Restaurant

Jennie Low’s

120 Vintage Oaks, Novato.

415.892.8838.

Best French Restaurant

Left Bank Brasserie

507 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur.

415.927.3331.

Best Indian Restaurant

Lotus Cuisine of India

704 Fourth St., San Rafael.

415.456.5808.

Best Italian Restaurant

Il Fornaio

223 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera.

415.927.4400.

Best Japanese Restaurant

Village Sake

19 Bolinas Road, Fairfax.

415.521.5790.

Best Mediterranean Restaurant

Insalata’s

120 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo.

415.457.7700

Best Mexican Restaurant

Saylor’s Restaurant

2009 Bridgeway, Sausalito.

415.332.1512.

Best Seafood

Fish

350 Harbor Drive, Sausalito.

415.331.3474.

Best Thai Restaurant

Royal Thai

610 Third St., San Rafael.

415.485.1074.

Best Vegetarian Restaurant

Cafe del Soul

1408 Fourth St., San Rafael.

415.457.5400.

247 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley.

415.388.1852.

Best Ice Cream

Fairfax Scoop

63 Broadway Blvd., Fairfax.

415.453.3130.

Best Frozen Yogurt

Woody’s Yogurt Place

802 Strawberry Village, Mill Valley.

415.383.4881.

Best Brewpub

Marin Brewing Company

1809 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur.

415.461.4677.

Best Microbrew

Iron Springs Pub & Brewery

765 Center Blvd., Fairfax.

415.485.1005.

Best Happy Hour

Boca Tavern

340 Ignacio Blvd., Novato.

415.883.0901.

Best Cocktails

Farmshop

2233 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur.

415.755.6700.

Best Bar

2am Club

380 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

415.388.6036.

Best Sports Bar

Flatiron Saloon

724 B St., San Rafael.

415.453.4318.

Best Wine

TREK Winery

1026 Machin Ave., Novato.

415.899.9883.

Best Wine Bar

123 Bolinas Artisan Wine Bar

123 Bolinas Road, Fairfax.

415.488.5123.

Best Sommelier

Erick Hendricks, Hilltop 1892

850 Lamont Ave., Novato.

415.893.1892.