Al pastor torta
Tacos Los Primos, Richmond
To make this sandwich, the taco truck cooks split a fat bread roll in half, crisp the edges on the griddle, and layer sour cream, fresh tomato, and chopped lettuce. The crowning touch: al pastor, spicy marinated pork roasted on the spit and sliced off to order. Delicious!
Cafe Rouge, Berkeley
Cafe Rouge is justly famous for its California bistro food, but it also makes a luxurious burger. No need to lard the meat with foie gras and truffles -- it just takes top-notch beef, skillfully molded and grilled, to produce the juiciest, most flavorful patty in the East Bay.
Tartare of yellowfin tuna
Sea Salt, West Berkeley
Anthony Paone changes his menu every day, so there's no guarantee you'll eat this version, but sometimes he blends pearly, sweet chopped tuna with orange zest, basil, and black olive -- strong flavors all, but so delicately interwoven that they just haunt the palate.
Caribbean Cove, Berkeley
When it's raw, oxtail may not look like much, but after chef Judith O'Loughlin braises and braises and braises it, the meat is tender enough to scoop out from the hollows of the bones with a spoon and may just be the richest beef you've ever tasted.
Charlie Hallowell may be a pizzaiolo, but his antipasto platter is one of the restaurant's lesser-known delights: a mosaic of seasonal tastes, many no bigger than a slice of baguette spread with a cauliflower-anchovy puree or a crisp, raw radish.
Tostaditas de tinga poblana
Tamarindo, Downtown Oakland
You get two bites to savor these tiny tostadas, topped with shredded chicken and dressed in a smoky, deep chipotle sauce, a frizz of shaved lettuce, a dab of sour cream, and a miniature fan of ripe avocado. Then you'll dream about them for weeks afterward.
Phnom Penh House, East Oakland
This seemingly humble meat dish is one of the restaurant's most potent. Skewers of beef, pork, or chicken are rubbed with a thick spice paste that caramelizes on the grill. When you spoon bits of a peppery vinegar-based sauce overtop, it's flavor overload.
We've seen Indian folks mist up with nostalgia over these kebabs, chunks of lean halal beef crusted thickly in a reddish paste of yogurt and spices and roasted in the tandoor.
Xenia! Bistro, Alamo
You can taste the wood in Xenia!'s wood-oven-fired pizzas: It leaves a whiff of smoke on the pizzas, with crusts that crisp up like pastry and brawny toppings such as leeks and bacon.