Whether you brown bag it or swing by the same old deli every day, it's easy to fall into a lunchtime rut. So here's good news: This trio of inexpensive eateries will spice up your noontime routine, no question. They include a sensational barbecue place from an award-winning chef, a sandwich shop with a cult following and a cafe that evokes 1950s fare with fresh flair.
Address: 3303 San Pablo Ave., Oakland
Contact: 510-595-0227; http://bsidebbq.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Lunch tab: $31.27 for two
According to East Bay restaurant lore, San Pablo Avenue was once a barbecue belt of saucy rib joints. Now, Tanya Holland and Phil Surkis have resurrected the past with B-Side BBQ, a casual West Oakland barbecue joint with a modern edge.
The menu features mains and sides made with local, sustainable and organic ingredients whenever possible, plus artisan ales and wines. An old-school smoker gives everything from meat to cocktails a woodsy, campfire flavor. If you doubt its power, try the Smoked Mashed Yams ($4), a side dish so fun and surprisingly flavorful, you could double down with baked beans and call it a meal.
Equally delightful was the Fried Okra Bites with Creole Aioli ($5). If you're like me and crave okra sans slime, this is the starter for you: Delicate, diced okra lightly fried in what was likely cornmeal batter. They packed quite an addictive crunch.
As for entrees, my favorite among the proteins was the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8.50) served on a soft Semifreddi's roll with traditional barbecue sauce. For starters, I liked that a sandwich so lovingly prepared clocked in at under $10. The pork was tender and melt-in-your-mouth good.
I liked the flavors and half-order option of Smoked Brown Sugar Rubbed Brisket ($10; full order, $18) but was disappointed that it arrived a bit dry and cold. We still gobbled it up with the accompanying pickled veggies and thick, Acme white toast. Next time: Jerk Spiced Baby Backs. You know, to get in touch with our East Bay history.
-- J. Yadegaran
Address: 21 Railroad Ave., Danville
Contact: 925-820-9500; www.ilikeikesplace.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
Lunch tab: $24.92 for two
Ike Shehadeh's eponymous sandwich shop is a San Francisco legend, known for its wild sauces, whimsical menu, incredibly long lines and cultlike following. Now his line of shops, known variously as Ike's Lair and Ike's Place, has expanded to the East Bay, with an Ike's in Oakland and another in Danville.
So why the iconic status, the crowds, the awards? Ike's Menage a Trois sandwich made SF Eater's list of "20 Epic Sandwiches to Eat Before You Die" -- and while we can't vouch for that particular three-way sandwich (halal chicken with three sauces and three cheeses), epic may be the only appropriate description for any of Ike's 34 sandwiches, which include a dozen vegetarian offerings, as well as gluten-free and vegan options. The tastes and textures blend together into a sensational, flavor-packed whole, unlike anything else we've ever tried. It's a messy, delicious re-imagining of what a sandwich is.
The eclectic menu pays homage to football and baseball stars, Olympians, astronauts, "the girl I'm dating" and "your favorite Sesame Street character." Order an Elmo or a Kermit, and you'll get a cream cheese, pesto, cucumber and avocado sandwich on Ike's justifiably famous Dutch crunch or sourdough ($7.97). That Dutch crunch is amazing, by the way -- we're not sure how they got the crunch without the typical tear-up-the-inside-of-your-mouth effect, but we're grateful.
We joined the swooning masses last week to dive into a Jim Rome ($8.98) with turkey, avocado, cheddar and Ike's spicy, garlicky red pesto, and a Madison Bumgarner ($11.11) with thinly sliced rib-eye, Ike's yellow barbecue sauce, a dash of habanero, plus American and
Epic indeed, especially washed down with quirky, small-batch sodas.
-- J. Burrell
Roxx on Main
Address: 627 Main St., Martinez
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 5 to 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
Contact: 925-370-7699, www.roxxonmain.com
Lunch tab: $28.15 for two
Meet a 2-year-old restaurant decades in the making.
Roxx on Main is relatively new to downtown Martinez, but its East Bay roots run deep, and that's evident in the straightforward, satisfying lunch fare coming from owner Roxanne Cole's kitchen four afternoons a week.
Cole's focus on locally grown and sustainable ingredients reflects the current state of California dining, but her interest in artisan ingredients reaches back to the 1950s and '60s, when her father owned a deli on Macdonald Avenue in Richmond, and even further back, when her mother was teaching her how to cook with care.
The longtime Martinez resident's passed-down recipes include the split pea and ham soup ($4 a cup, $6 a bowl), infused with locally grown carrots, onions and herbs and topped with Niman Ranch bacon crumbles, cheddar cheese and house-made croutons. On cold days, Cole's soups are the stars. Order the clam chowder, chicken dumpling, beef barley or baked potato cheddar if they're offered the day you visit.
Trying to save a few bucks? Build a sandwich for $6, about what you'll pay for a top-tier gut-bomb burger at a fast-food joint. At Roxx, add the house-made spicy marinated cucumbers or balsamic red onions, two more family recipes. They pack a punch of flavor, something true with many of the hand-me-down details that separate Cole's food from standard cafe plates.
If you don't want to make your own sandwich, opt for an artisan version with a house salad. The standout on a recent visit was the crisp and clean JK Grill ($9), a grilled cheese with roasted turkey, Sonoma pepper jack and spicy pepperoncinis on sliced sourdough that's named after a couple of regulars.
If you're having trouble deciding between a house-made flatbread ($9) and the barbecue chicken sliders ($10), go with the latter. The mini-burgers feature Spinelli Brothers barbecue sauce, an East Bay brand available in bottles ($7) at Roxx.
It's those kind of little local touches that give Roxx a hometown feel, despite it being around only a few years.
Unless you count the decades of family love that went into the food.
-- T. O'Rourke