Quintessential Tastes of Marin

After speaking with numerous long-term (and food-loving) Marin County residents, we compiled a list of 10 of the area’s classic trademark dishes—the favorites that any county dweller has tasted at least once and likely much more often. (So if you haven’t tried them all, you better get to it, before we revoke your “I’m a proud local!” card.) And to keep things current, we’ve also highlighted 10 dishes that are a bit newer to the culinary scene, but well poised to become classics soon enough—just give them a couple more years.

The Original Classic Ten

Oysters Bingo at the Buckeye Roadhouse
1 This decadent appetizer has been on the menu since the Buckeye opened in 1991, and you’ll probably see “Bingos” on almost every table. Six plump oysters rest on half-shell nests of spinach spiked with brandy and garlic, topped with a golden soufflé-like mix of aioli and asiago. The final flourish: dipping your bread in the remaining juice in the shell. Bingo! (The meaty baby back ribs are no slouch either.)
15 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley, 415.331.2600, buckeyeroadhouse.com

The Tableside Caesar at Marin Joe’s
2 A true classic (since 1954). Take a seat in one of the old-school booths and wait your turn for a jacketed waiter to wheel the salad cart on over. In a world where tableside service is on the wane, the experience completely delights. And if you have a problem with raw egg or anchovies, hey, don’t order a Caesar. The servers here make a countless number of them each day (our server, Pete, confessed that in six years, he only had one day when he didn’t make a Caesar). And if you’re nice, you just may get a little chocolate with your handwritten check.
1585 Casa Buena Dr., Corte Madera, 415.924.2081, marinjoesrestaurant.com

The Saigon Salmon Sandwich at Fish
3 When a sandwich is $21, and you have to pay cash (only) for it, it better deliver. And this one really does. East meets west in a spin on the Vietnamese bánh mì: marinated and grilled wild salmon is served in an Acme torpedo roll stuffed with carrot, jalapeño, cilantro and house-made Vietnamese ginger-scallion sauce. Sure, the fries on the side sound good, but pssst, here’s a tip: it’s all about the chili-lime purple coleslaw. 350 Harbor Dr., Sausalito, 415.331.3474, 331fish.com

Fattoush Salad at Insalata’s
4 This is one of those salads you could eat weekly and never get tired of. The tangy lemony dressing, the classic trinity of cucumber-tomato-red-onion, the salty feta and kalamata olives, bright cilantro and mint, a whisper of cumin and garlic,  and crunch of toasted pita chips and romaine lettuce conspire to crown chef Heidi Krahling the queen of Mediterranean salad-making.
120 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, 415.457.7700, insalatas.com

Polpettone Meat Loaf at Poggio
5 The name means “big meatball,” and the tender, almost-fluffy texture is certainly not like the meat loaf you grew up with. It’s baked and then braised to order, so you get two big juicy slices on top of a smooth potato puree, with arugula on the side. Chef Peter McNee slathers the slices with a bright tomato sauce and, of course, plenty of grated cheese. You (might) even have enough left over for a sandwich the next day. Maybe. 801 Bridgeway Blvd., Sausalito,  415.332.7771, poggiotrattoria.com

Indian Burrito at Avatar’s
Punjabi Burritos

6 Indian burrito: yes, it sounds like a funky fusion creation to be skeptical about, but if something like that has been around for 13 years, it has to be good. Get the curried lamb and pumpkin curry burrito, which comes loaded with garbanzo beans, potatoes, saffron rice, herb salsa, chutney, pickled carrot, nonfat yogurt and tamarind sauce, all wrapped up in chapati. (Cut it in half first or you’ll have a mess.) And a mango lassi hits the spot. 15 Madrona St., Mill Valley, 415.381.8293, enjoyavatars.com

Straus Soft Serve with DaVero Olive Oil and Sea Salt at Pizzeria Picco
7 Salt and olive oil on ice cream may not be as shocking of an ice cream topping as they used to be, but when chef Bruce Hill first put this dessert on the menu in 2005, it definitely took some coaxing for people to try it. Creamy and rich Straus Family Creamery soft-serve ice cream (a custom house mix) is drizzled with feisty DaVero extra-virgin olive oil, plus the crucial sprinkling of sea salt. Yup, it’s love. 316 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415.945.8900, pizzeriapicco.com

Chinese Chicken Salad at Comforts
8 This cult-like salad features sliced and barbecued chicken, toasted almonds, sesame seeds, deep-fried rice noodles, and a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuces, with a notable sesame–rice vinegar dressing (they even sell bottles of it). Tip: you can get a light version of the salad, or swap out the chicken for tofu or sun-dried tomatoes. There’s also a refrigerator packed with the salad in Chinese take-out containers (available in two sizes); it’s that in demand. 335 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo, 415.454.9840, comfortscafe.com

Pollo al horno at Sol Food
9 This Puerto Rican favorite has two locations (the “big place” and the “small place”), feeding legions of fans willing to line up for one of the finest chicken dishes in the county. The boneless/skinless/free-range thighs (one for $8.50, two for $10.25 or three for $12.50) are baked in marinade full of oregano and garlic, and the side of beans (pink or black), rice, lemony salad, and plantains (sweet maduros or savory tostones) add up to quite the affordable feast. 732 4th St., 415.451.4765, 901 Lincoln Ave., 415.256.8900, San Rafael, solfoodrestaurant.com

Ice Cream at Fairfax Scoop
10 It’s not just children clamoring for a scoop from this popular ice creamery—and while the little ones may opt for simple strawberry, adults can go a bit more gourmet with the famed honey-vanilla-lavender. It’s oh-so-creamy, and everything is made on site, with fresh and organic produce. (Go ahead, get two scoops.) And no prefab cones here: you get a freshly made waffle cone. 63 Broadway Blvd., Fairfax, 415.453.3130

10 New Classics

Poached eggs at Cibo
1 What a welcome newcomer to the breakfast scene. Prick the perfectly poached eggs from Clark Summit Farm so the bright yolk can soak into the herbed goat cheese and polenta cake underneath. It’s a satisfying and savory start to the day, with a seasonally inspired salad on the side (in the springtime, the salad came loaded with asparagus, favas and crisp bits of pancetta). 1201 Bridgeway, Sausalito, 415.331.2426,

Heirloom Potato, Caramelized Onion & White Truffle Oil Pizza at Pizza Antica
2 While the kids have their pepperoni, adults are gravitating to this white pizza topped with thinly sliced potato, a flavorful combination of cheeses, caramelized onions and white truffle oil. Now, I personally have an anti–truffle oil policy (it’s synthetic), but even I can appreciate the flavor of this pizza. (Nice array of beers, too.) 800 Redwood Hwy., Suite 705, Strawberry Village, Mill Valley, 415.383.0600, pizzaantica.com

Warm Brussels Sprouts at Bungalow 44
3 There are good-for-you salads, and then there’s this kind: brussels sprout leaves are the base of a warm salad loaded with wedges of creamy soft-boiled egg, little pieces of bacon and sweet caramelized onion. Yeah, you can see why it’s winning a popularity contest at the restaurant.
44 East Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley, 415.381.2500, bungalow44.com

The “New” Spicy Tuna Maki Roll at Sushi Ran
4 Some locals may request the original (and off-the-menu) spicy tuna maki roll, sauced up with miso aioli, avocado and sriracha, but the new version is where it’s at, with a fresh hit of shiso and sprinkled with seven types of Japanese spice (shichimi) and sesame seeds. 107 Caledonia St., Sausalito, 415.332.3620, sushiran.com

The Plato Vegetariano at Marinitas
5 Vegetarians often get short shrift on dinner menus, but this five-item platter is one that even carne asada lovers could pass up the meat for. It includes a chile relleno stuffed with grilled corn and queso Oaxaca, a savory quinoa pilaf, chard with rich raja crema, sautéed trumpet mushrooms, and chipotle-glazed butternut squash. (The chips and salsas are also primo.) 218 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, 415.454.8900, marinitas.net

The Oyster Pizza at Osteria Stellina
6 There are all kinds of pizzas out there, but this one’s definitely as unique as it is local: chef Christian Caiazzo puts briny Drakes Bay Oyster Farm oysters on this blistered pie, comingling them with a base of rich and vegetal-green leeks braised in Straus dairy cream, finished with lemon thyme, parsley and a few chili flakes. 11285 Hwy. 1, Point Reyes Station, 415.663.9988, osteriastellina.com

The Thursday Night Rabbit dish at Piazza D’Angelo
7 This just might be the dish to get people eating more rabbit. A juicy and hearty portion of local Devil’s Gulch Ranch rabbit is braised and served with buttery celery and carrot, on a bed of wild rice. It’s homey, rustic and simply delicious, like your mamma would make, if she were Italian. (Chef Massimo Covello’s homemade cavatelli are also hard to pass up.) 22 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, 415.388.2000, piazzadangelo.com

The Ida del Diablo at the Tavern at Lark Creek
8 Since the Lark Creek Inn was recently renovated, it only made sense for the bar menu to get updated as well. The can’t-miss cocktail is this spiffed-up margarita, with reposado tequila and tamarind syrup (you can really taste some cinnamon, too), with lemon and lime both in the glass and as sliced wheels on the spiced sugar rim. It goes down far too easily: cuidado. 234 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415.924.7766 tavernatlarkcreek.com

Crème Fraîche Gelato at Gelateria Cici
9 Looking for a palate refresher? This little shop’s artisanal and organic gelato is made from scratch and with local ingredients. While it isn’t as thick and rich as you’d find in Italy, the nimble freshness of the tangy flavor will surely make you say, “Delicioso!” 17 East Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley, 415.388.2423, gelateriacici.com

Butterscotch Soufflé at Murray Circle
10 This stellar dessert from chef Joseph Humphrey is worth every darned calorie. I mean, really, why have butterscotch pudding when you can have a butterscotch soufflé? Actually, it’s a bit like a love child between the two since it has a creamy pudding-like interior and a soufflé-like airiness on top. Brilliant. Your spoon will take on a life of its own—watch. 601 Murray Circle, Sausalito, 415.339.4750, murraycircle.com