The Kitchen Sink 

February Is Hole-in-the-Wall Month

Part of what makes the Bay Area great is our all-encompassing love for food -- a passion that doesn't just show up in our haute cuisine but in every sandwich shop and produce market. Every time I leave the region I'm reminded that our "bad" meals are only mediocre, and that "pretty good" here garners raves elsewhere.

On average, Bay Area residents eat out more than folks from other parts of the nation. But most of us don't pay $20 or more every time we eat out. We develop a stable of little restaurants where we can pop in and grab a bite for as much money as it would take to make dinner. Everyone has a favorite hole-in-the-wall -- somewhere we go for a particular specialty or where we know we'll never leave feeling we paid too much for too little.

I'll devote February to reviewing those hideaways where good food takes precedence over glitz and decor. Forget that vow of secrecy you and your friends swore -- now's the time to e-mail me and get the word out about your favorite hole-in-the-wall. The address is

jonathan.kauffman@eastbayexpress.com.

I'm especially interested in restaurants outside the Albany-to-Oakland corridor; my crew of roving bellies and I will travel north to the Carquinez Straits, east past Concord, south to Fremont -- anywhere in Alameda and Contra Costa counties is fair game. Pho, menudo, smothered pork chops, whatever -- you give me an enticing reason to go there and I'll visit and tell everyone what I find. I can't promise to like it, and I can't promise that it will be the sole subject of a full review, but I'm always interested in learning about what's out there.

One caveat to restaurant owners: Self-promotional e-mails are not what I'm looking for.

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