Along with gorgeous scenery, a cool vibe and plenty of performing arts, Marin has drawn some of the most revered chefs around to make their culinary magic here. From casual cafés, to micro-breweries to innovative gourmet dining with a view, this place is the envy of many a foodie.
The Marshall Store is the perennial winner in the Best Place for Oysters category, for reasons that need not be explained. The bivalves are extraordinary, the view is out-of-this-world and even though they call it a store, it’s a shack along Tomales Bay that can’t be beat, and probably never will. But this year’s award comes with some major sadness and poignancy, as Charles “Tod” Friend died on the bay last summer. He was the founder of Tomales Bay Oyster Company, from whence the Marshall Store draws its complement of raw and cooked oysters.
His two children run the Marshall Store, and they offered stories about Friend after his passing that revealed him to be pretty much a badass his whole life—smuggled pot, stole draft files during the Vietnam era, stuff like that. His death by drowning was as sudden as it was shocking, and serves to remind us all to enjoy each day as if it were our last. Friend’s legacy along Tomales Bay provides an exquisite opportunity to do just that.—Tom Gogola
19225 State Route 1, Marshall. 415.663.1339.
Cafe del Soul takes honors for Best Vegetarian and Best Natural/Sustainable Restaurant, and rightfully so—the two outlets in Mill Valley and San Rafael pump out soups, richly adorned veggie wraps, quinoa out the wazoo and too many salads to mention—and the nachos, which always feel a little decadent, are tons of fun to chow on with a group of gluten-wary pals. But here’s the thing, Cafe del Soul: By this time next year, you’re likely to have some competition, as the second scheduled Amy’s Drive Thru is being planned for the old Denny’s location in Corte Madera (the original is in Rohnert Park, and it rocks).
A healthy competition over the healthiest health food in Marin County can’t be a bad thing, and we’d love to see a drink-off between Cafe De Soul’s multiple (and blessedly affordable) juices and smoothies and Amy’s chocolate shake. Going in, I’m partial to the shake, but I bet that Passionate First Date smoothie on the Cafe de Soul menu gives the shake a run for its money.—T.G.
Gluten Be Gone
Marin is a mecca for those seeking a healthy lifestyle. But eating out can be a challenge, especially if you’re allergic to or choose not to eat certain foods. Luckily, we have the Miracle Mile Café, chosen as this year’s eatery with the Best Gluten-Free Menu Options. Miracle Mile’s breakfast menu offers scrambles and omelets with cage-free eggs or with non-GMO sprouted tofu, ground Peruvian flax seed pancakes and more. Lunch options include burgers and sandwiches served on Rudi’s gluten-free buns, salads and veggie soup. There’s also a kids’ menu and a selection of “regular” family favorites like eggs benedict, Belgian waffles, a classic BLT and grass-fed filet mignon. This place has it all, but goes the extra mile for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free folks—L.O.
2130 Fourth St., San Rafael; 415.454.7700.
Madcap, the foodie readers’ choice this year for Best New Restaurant, adds another feather to the upscale-dining cap of Marin. Since opening the restaurant last year, Chef/Owner Ron Siegel (Michael Mina, Masa’s, Charles Nob Hill) has garnered praise from numerous publications, including a Zagat listing as one of the Bay Area’s Most Important Restaurant Openings of 2017.
Using organic and farm-raised products, Siegel serves up unusual appetizers like a lobster miso shot, rabbit tortelloni with black trumpet mushrooms and parmesan spuma, and entrees like celery root and mushroom ravioli with truffle broth and Stonington sea scallops with carrot puree, cauliflower and salsify. Desserts are rich and include a chef’s tasting menu selection. And of course, there’s a well-curated wine list that also includes a variety of sakes. All of this can be enjoyed in an intimate, art-filled and casually elegant setting.—L.O.
198 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo; 415.453.9898.
Although Marin is clearly hooked on coffee, with every town featuring at least one independent or chain coffee cafe, tea popularity is brewing in a big way. And that’s why this year we’ve added a new category to our Best of Marin list, Best Tea Shop/Cafe, which got snagged by Wu Wei Tea Temple in Fairfax. This charming, cozy place offers a tea “bar” that serves up rare and small-batch tea choices like organic chrysanthemum flower, pu-erh mini tuocha, wild qiaomu shengpu and tulsi/holy basil tea. It also proudly features kava, a 3,000-year-old drink made from the kava plant that they claim is a “wonderful alternative to alcohol,” due to its relaxing qualities. World music, storytelling, open mics and tarot readings are featured on certain nights, so it’s a great place to go to slow down, sip and listen.—L.O.
1820 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Fairfax; 415.516.2578.
Napa and Sonoma counties are well-known for their vineyards and wineries, but you don’t have to leave Marin to taste premium wines. Novato’s newly opened Mantra Wines, voted the Best Winetasting Room this year, features more than 11 red, white and sparkling wines from three labels—Mantra, Mobius and Big Ridge—that can be sampled by the glass, bottle or flight. A family affair, Mantra is dedicated to producing the finest wines that “reflect the unique characteristics” that can only come from high-elevation vineyards. Featuring a selection of tasty bites to go along with the wine, including a local cheese plate, honey, seasoned nuts, bruschetta with tomato, garlic and goat cheese and corned beef sliders, Mantra also offers live music on select nights.—L.O.
881 Grant Ave., Novato; 415.892.WINE.
I was listening to public radio KALW’s San Quentin Radio the other morning, and they were featuring a segment on San Quentin Inmate-Chef John “Yah-Yah” Parratt, considered by inmates to be the unofficial chef of San Quentin, a prison known for its endless outpourings of bland pancakes for the inmates. The segment made me hungry just listening to it. See, it’s all in the seasoning, says radio host Tommy Ross. You’ve got to cook it with your heart, Yah-Yah tells Ross, and he’s been cooking for seven years on a 23-year bid. The segment was so tasty and inviting, I went out and stole a car, because Yah-Yah’s cooking is the Best Culinary Reason to Commit a Nonviolent Felony.
Guilty! I’m guilty! Now when can I tuck into some of Yah-Yah’s Southern cooking, Mr. Judge? It was part of my plea deal.—T.G.
When Matteo Troncone set out to celebrate the soul of Naples—its pizza—he figured, hey, I’ll make a movie about it and call it Arrangiarsi, which translates into “the art of making something out of nothing.” And that’s just what he delivered—something from nothing, after spending the better part of five years living in his van in furtive spots up and down the California Coast, as he scratched together the funds to travel back and forth to Italy. There, he filmed tomato growers in the shadow of Vesuvius, among numerous pizza-shop owners and street artists who are all steeped in the ethic of arrangiarsi, and even got a minute of FaceTime with Silvio Berlusconi, thanks to a forged press pass. ‘Arrangiarsi: Pizza . . . and the Art of Living’ is the Best Pizza Movie from a Mill Valley Guy who Lived in His Van for Five Years. It’s a total hoot, and after a few showings in West Marin, Troncone hit the road with his van and his decidedly indie labor of love.—T.G.
The winner for Best Chinese is Lam’s Kitchen in Mill Valley, where diners can take their time and explore a massive and old-school menu of Chinese chow. You can’t beat Lam’s for a big Chinese supper with friends or family. They’ve got the orange chicken, the Mongolian beef, and it rates gourmet for sure.
But we still need the good and quick cheap Chinese food, and that’s where Hot Wok Chinese Food, the Best Cheap Chinese Food When You’ve Got Saturday Banking to Do, comes in. Saturdays for me can mean a late-morning drive from West Marin along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to San Anselmo. I’m typically headed to Chase Bank to withdraw the rent, grab a Starbucks in the shopping center and then hit the Hot Wok. I try to resist the temptation and usually I fail, and will typically load up for a weekend-long lo mein binge to go along with whatever the latest Netflix binge happens to be.—T.G.
898 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo; 415.454.0877.
When Side Street Kitchen was the Pine Cone Diner, it was a great place to go to shake off the cobwebs over upper-tier diner fare that never cut corners and was always heaped on the plate with that particular brusque diner love. When the Pine Cone went under a couple years ago, fear took hold. Where can we bring him or her to talk things over? Where can we go to say, “Look, I think you’re really interesting but I’m not taking your kids this weekend so you can go to the casino with your girlfriends.”
Fortunately, the new owners left the built-in aesthetics, added colorful murals, and Side Street Kitchen continues to hew diner-style, even as the grub’s been upgraded. If there’s a siggie dish, it’s the rotisserie chicken.
I was there with a friend last summer, a new friend and maybe more. But when she reached for my iced tea without asking, that was that. We all have our fussy spots, and that’s mine. Side Street Kitchen is the Best New Restaurant to Solidify a Platonic Relationship With a Woman Who Runs With the Wolves. You can touch my heart, but hands off my tea. Now we’re just friends, baby.—T.G.
60 4th St., Point Reyes Station. 415.663.0303.
The Baked Drake
Defying the NIMBY neighbors and the law, the Drake, Marin’s Best Cannabis Restaurant, opened last year to much fanfare, offering a choice selection of cannabis-infused foods that all adhere to the West Marin farm-to-table mandate. Chef Vinnie Morlock has traveled the world cooking and jiving, and he brings it all home at the Drake, even if he has no permits and might wind up as Yah-Yah’s sous chef in San Quentin if word gets out. Shhhhhh.
Menu highlights include the Sour Diesel pork dumplings, the White Widow waffles and the Purple Kush kumquat loaf. The restaurant’s a bit hard to find, but worth the hassle. From 101, head west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard until you see the sun glinting off Bob Weir’s solar panels, and take a left. Take another left, and then a left and still yet another left—you’re there. You’ll know you’re there when you’re there. On a recent visit, I sampled those luscious dumplings while a trio of West Marin ukulele misfits cranked out a version of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” It’s the only song they know. Go figure.—T.G.
Full List of Best of Marin 2018 Food & Drink Winners
Niki Scioli, McInnis Park Club Restaurant
Pig in a Pickle
Best Beach Restaurant
Sand Dollar Restaurant
Best Brew Pub
Iron Springs Pub & Brewery
Half Day Cafe
Phyllis’ Giant Burgers
High Tech Burrito
Best Business Lunch
Best Butcher Shop
Equator Coffees & Teas
Stacy Scott Caterers
Best Cheese Shop
Fisher’s Cheese + Wine
Heidi Krahling, Insalata’s
Pick Me Up Chocolate
Best Craft Brew Event
Best CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
Table Top Farm
Louie’s Deli Café
Shoreline Coffee Shop
Best Dining after 10pm
Best Dive Bar
Best Farmers’ Market
Marin Farmers’ Market
Best Food Truck
Left Bank Brasserie
Best Frozen Yogurt
Woody’s Yogurt Place
Best Gluten-Free Menu Options
Miracle Mile Café
Best Happy Hour
Best Ice Cream
Lotus Cuisine of India
Best Latin American
Best Local Coffee Roaster
Equator Coffees & Teas
Saylor’s Restaurant and Bar
Marin Brewing Company
Best Natural/Sustainable Restaurant
Cafe del Soul
Best New Restaurant (opened in 2017)
Best New Winery (less than one year)
Best Outdoor Dining
Sam’s Anchor Cafe
Best Place for Oysters
The Marshall Store
Best Restaurant with a View
Best Sandwich Shop
Ali Askin, McInnis Park Club Restaurant
Erick Hendricks, Hilltop 1892
Best Sports Bar
Best Spot to Dine Solo
Best Tea Shop/Cafe
Wu Wei Tea Temple
My Thai Restaurant
Cafe del Soul
Pho Viet Vietnamese Cuisine
Best Waterfront Restaurant
Best Wine Bar
Best Wine Event
Tiburon Wine Festival
Best Wine List
Incavo Wine Lounge & Collective
Best Winetasting Room