Like many immigrants to Silicon Valley, I’ve long yearned for the authentic food of my motherland, which in my case happens to be what’s euphemistically known on its license plates as The Garden State. Having grown up several blocks from a bagel shop and a deli that sold wax-paper-wrapped lox wings for 25 cents in small-town New Jersey, I feel somewhat of an authority on this subject.
Great bagels should be sold out of wire baskets (they breathe easier than shelves) and be dense and chewy enough to loosen a capped tooth if you bite into it too fast (unlike the cake-y ones that pass in California). Pairings with ham or pesto or asiago cheese or blueberries are California creations, like sushi burritos, and bagel sandwiches are better when they are not sliced into two C-shaped objects, so you can grip the entire assemblage with two hands and not lose too much cream cheese out the sides.
Last year, The New York Times created a stir when its food critic declared that the finest bagels anywhere could be found in, drumroll, Berkeley. Fortunately, Boichik Bagels opened a second location last month in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Shopping Center (855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650.352.5995), because navigating past Northern California’s second worst traffic bottleneck in Emeryville is never fun. The region that gave the world video games, smartphones and self-driving cars can rest easy, now that fellow NJ émigré Emily Winston has brought world-class bagels here. The Nova lox sandwich is to kvell for, and Boichik’s salt and pepper bagel affirms that simplicity and perfection pair well.
Our award for “Best New Nanobrewery” goes to downtown’s Fox Tale Fermentation Project (30 E. Santa Clara St., Suite 120; 408.216.0158). This tiny, arty, friendly establishment challenges lazy palates with beet and fruit infusions and delights visual senses with a thoughtfully curated selection of local art. Vegan and lacto-fermented small dishes—sauerkraut, kimchi, hot sauces—pair well with the nanobrews that align with holistic nutrition theories—always a good conversational accompaniment to a beer buzz. Congratulations to Wendy Neff and Felipe Bravo on creating something actually original in a copycat world.
We compared cannolis recently at several establishments, including the much celebrated international sensation Eataly, but Holy Cannoli (138 E Santa Clara St; 408.561.2223) came out on top. Eataly’s was too big and too sweet, and other places put the filling in and then left it in the refrigerated display case, which in our rating system results in automatic disqualification. Jamie Whitmire’s #dtsj cafe is the kind of independent culinary entrepreneurship worth seeking out.
This shortest of short lists would not be complete without saluting Acopio (399 S 24th St; 408.293.5241), which daringly reinvented a burned-out taqueria in a patchwork neighborhood into a stylish D.F. Mexico City-style culinary celebration. Craft cocktails and seasonal dishes—we are waiting for the purslane salad with queso fresco to come back in season—are rounded out by staples such as house pickles ($3) and tortillas with smashed beans ($10). Supporting date-night elegance and a family-friendly patio amidst East Side liveliness is no small feat, and Acopio has pulled it off.
In Silicon Valley, we salute the bold and the original, and in the case of this list, female-forward. Embrace.