Usually, around this time of year, we’re feeling pretty good. We’re buzzing with a sense of joy and relaxation, spending time with family and friends, gathering and eating meals together and looking back on the fun times we had over the last 12 months. After almost a full year of living with COVID-19, those halcyon holiday times seem so distant from our current reality. But while we didn’t get many opportunities to eat at restaurants or meet up for meals with friends, we still did have some good times and ate plenty of good food in 2020.
As Nosh continues looking back on the year in food, today, we’ll reflect on our most memorable takeout experiences and the comfort foods we turned to during the pandemic.
Did you have a really memorable meal during the pandemic? Or a comfort food you want to share? Tell us in the comments below.
What were your most memorable takeout meals in 2020?
Sarah Han: Three takeout meals come to mind as being particularly delicious: 1) The dim sum feast I picked up from Ming’s Tasty in Oakland Chinatown — the rice noodle roll stuffed with savory Chinese donut was particularly good, and somehow the donut managed to stay crispy despite being enveloped in a steamed rice noodle and transported in a takeout box — magic! 2) The paella and patatas bravas from La Marcha in Berkeley was a gamechanger. I never thought of either as good takeout options, but the paella was perfectly cooked — with the rice tender and slightly chewy — and the fried potatoes were so crispy. 3) Finally, the Peruvian chicken meal from Michoz, the new iteration of Broke Ass Cooks, a pop-up restaurant from former Commis cooks who are now cooking out of the Hidden Cafe in Berkeley. The package was delivered right to my door by Michoz folks themselves, and there was so much deliciousness inside — a moist, succulent half chicken that had a really great grilled flavor; so much flavorful chicken fat rice that I had leftovers the next day; tasty fried yuca that I wished for more of; rich chicken broth for sipping; a refreshing, zesty salad and even crunchy plantain chips to snack on. I loved every bite.
Lance Knobel: Our weekly takeout from Cheese Board. There were times when the line went down the block and then down the next block. But with a decent podcast to listen to, the line moved steadily and the reward of a Cheese Board pizza to take home (always with a tub of salsa) became a steady drumbeat of our pandemic life.
Natalie Orenstein: I checked out Seoul Gomtang in Oakland for the first and second times in 2020. The first time, it was a memorable experience because of the pandemic measures that seemed to do an extra-good job of keeping staff and customers safe; you could pay while the staff hung way back. The second time, I ordered from the restaurant because the food had been really good. The gomtang tteokguk (rice cake soup) was soothing, and the haemulpajeon (seafood pancake) was delicious.
Joanna Della Penna: Despite the pandemic, our family is still really busy — even though these days it’s like running in place. Everything’s more complicated during COVID, including dinner. So when I got home one evening to a perfect June’s Pizza, landed in secret by my husband (it takes good phone timing-slash-luck to secure one), it was not only the best takeout we had in 2020, it was just the nicest surprise.
Jennifer Kaplan: My favorite takeout of 2020 was the Commis at Home four-course prix fixe menu. What had previously been a special-occasion meal is now an accessible splurge. After factoring in complimentary sommelier services and a half-off wine list, a meal from the 2-Michelin star restaurant on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland can’t be beaten. On the other end of the spectrum, a favorite healthy luxe lunch takeout spot is Palm Açai Cafe in Elmwood, where the açai bowls are the perfect antidote to a morning of butt-numbing Zoom calls. My favorite combination is the matcha-chia bowl: frozen matcha layered with chia pudding, blueberry, banana, sliced almonds, raw honey, granola and bee pollen.
Anna Mindess: My go-to takeout places are all on Solano Avenue (near where I live). They feel like old friends and I support them because I definitely want them to be around when things get back to normal. Here is one favorite dish at each one: Vanessa’s Bistro: Clay pot Rice with chicken & prawns, mushrooms, carrots, baby bok choy; Sweet Basil Thai: Grilled eggplant salad with minced chicken and prawns; Cugini: Seared Ahi Tuna Salad; Fonda: Grilled Skirt Steak with onions rings, and fried cauliflower; Zaytoon: Maklouba “upside-down” rice dish, eggplant, carrots, cauliflower, almonds, with lamb.
Alix Wall: I can think of quite a lot. The laksa at Lion Dance Cafe is something I’m wanting again, especially as it gets colder. I had written about the flawless meal we had at the opening of Juanita & Maude in Albany two years ago and we hadn’t been back until this year. We got our anniversary meal from there, and it was just as good as I remembered. I am grateful to Mago for doing such delicious Jewish holiday meals, since cooking the holiday foods that I usually love to cook, for just my household, depressed me too much. And while I know it was super popular due to Instagram, Daughter Thai and Farmhouse Kitchen’s Little Lao special was amazing. Not only was it a ton of food, but it looked gorgeous, offered so many different tastes, which is always fun, and made a regular evening feel celebratory. We were devastated when Tacos Oscar temporarily closed, but were so happy when it returned; we are huge fans of its vegan tacos, even though we’re not vegan. We fell hard for June’s Pizza and the other bites we tried next door at Magnolia Mini Mart. For a casual, quick — and affordable – dinner, you can’t beat a burrito from Doña.
Jill Kunishima: Alkali Rye has become a new regular in my rotation — they have a great selection of wine. Cafe Santana is down the street from me, and they provide a much-needed break in my day on many days. The coffee is good, and they are so lovely.
Moriah Van Vleet: For my summer birthday, we got two beautiful paellas in their signature pans from La Marcha. I’d always dreamed of a backyard paella party, and 2020 seemed like the least likely year for this to happen. But even with only a tiny, distanced group (and plenty of hand sanitizer, not to mention lots of delicious leftovers), the day was as lovely as I’d ever imagined.
Supriya Yelimeli: Every visit to Nom Nom Banh Mi on Telegraph with a stop at Cupcakin’ Bake Shopafter. The staff at both places are so warm and friendly and gave me a reason to venture outside. Cupcakin’ wows every time, it’s my favorite treat to gift, too.
Kristina Sepetys: A surprise birthday cake that arrived from Lavender Bakery & Cafe on Solano Avenue, courtesy of my son’s employer. A rich, delicious fresh fruit tart that totally saved the day, since being flour and yeast constrained (and I’ll be honest, baking challenged), I had nuthin’ in the works.
Amalya Dubrovsky: My favorite takeout experience in 2020 is eating soft tofu soup and a kimchi pancake from Pyeong Chang Tofu House. Every time I pick up soup from Pyeong Chang it’s piping hot, even after I dump it into a cold, ceramic bowl at home. If ordering a kimchi pancake, I do recommend opening the lid of the takeout box upon pickup so that it doesn’t lose its fabulous crisp!
Ricky Rodas: I think the best takeout experience I had was from Bellanico Restaurant and Bar in Oakland. I haven’t eaten at many fancy restaurants (I often feel out of place), but I liked taking the food to go and eating a delicious Italian meal with my girlfriend. I don’t think I would have thought to do that if it weren’t for the pandemic.
Doug Ng: My friend David owns Betty Zlatchin Catering in San Francisco. He lives in Berkeley and delivers meals to customers in Berkeley. They pivoted to delivery since all of their events had to be canceled. We had an amazing wagyu steak dinner that you probably could only get if you hired them for a high-end event.
Jacob Simas: Eating fresh, raw oysters while drinking a cold IPA — outside, safely distanced at an oceanfront establishment in Bodega Bay. It was special because it was a rare weekend getaway outside of Oakland (during the pandemic) with my family, the weather was beautiful, it felt so good to be out in the world, and because the oysters were perfect.
What food or drink did you turn to most for comfort during the pandemic?
Sarah Han: I never really considered roast chicken a go-to food for me, but I realized the other day that I’ve eaten and enjoyed a lot of it during the pandemic. (Perhaps I am a chicken person, after all.) Along with the Michoz Peruvian chicken that I mentioned above, a few other standouts I’ve had this year include the roast chicken at Rocky’s Brooklyn Basin, the roast chicken plate and chicken sandwich at Patatas Kitchen in Emeryville, rotisserie chicken and potatoes from the Roli Roti truck at the Temescal and Grand Lake farmers markets. I can’t wait to try the rotisserie chicken at the new Picnic store in Albany.
Amalya Dubrovsky: Like so many others, since March I have come to enjoy mixing up a cocktail when I have a free evening – inevitably — at home. My favorite drink of these strange times is an Eventide, which consists of 1.5 ounces each of Cocchi Americano and gin stirred with dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist.
Daphne White: I became a real focaccia lover over the months. I buy those large slabs, cut them into eights, and put them in the freezer so as not to eat them all at once. Then, whenever I need comfort food, I defrost and warm up a piece. I eat them either with olive oil and salt, like in Italian restaurants, or with homemade guacamole. One of the few pleasures of living through the horrible year that was 2020.
Risa Nye: To be perfectly honest, it was fried chicken. I cannot seem to get enough. Also, Fentons.
Tamara Sherman: Surprisingly, I turned to HelloFresh delivery service for comfort during the pandemic. I had low expectations, but having food delivered to my home means saved mental energy and time, none of the anguish of going grocery shopping, less food waste and learning to enjoy cooking at home. I know it sounds like an advert, but it’s worth every penny.
Tracey Taylor: Warm, spicy dishes appealed, especially as the pandemic dragged into the cooler autumn months. I’ve loved making Alison Roman’s Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric. Cooking it is itself comforting, with the visuals, sound and scent of the sizzling golden chickpeas. We ate it one cold December night around the fire pit in our garden with a couple of friends, mopping it up with freshly made naan from Good 2 Go Curry and Mart, our local corner store, and glasses of Tempranillo. Definitely a cultural mash-up, but it worked.
Colleen Leary: We really stepped up our taco game at home. We sampled different meats and ingredients from several spots throughout Berkeley and Oakland – and created new variations weekly (OK, sometimes nightly). It kept dinners interesting and felt good to support our local food businesses.
Joanna Della Penna: I drink a lot of tea.
Supriya Yelimeli: My morning coffee was my comfort food. It was the only thing I looked forward to on some days, especially during the cold and terrible early days in March and April. Coffee at home with my family means espresso with one-half portion milk. At my own place, a guilt-inducing Keurig pod that produces a hot, pretty terrible, and comforting pick-me-up.
Alix Wall: I was a huge fan of the old Ba-Bite so I was thrilled when Pomella opened in March, just in time for the pandemic. I’ll never get tired of its cheese-stuffed falafel, hummus or majadra, and now that chef Mica has been adding such sumptuous ever-changing desserts, my sugar intake has gone up a bunch. Sometimes I just order the frozen falafel to use in lunches, and a dessert.
Moriah Van Vleet: In my baking, I found myself drawn to basic, traditional sweets that are far less adventurous than my usual dessert endeavors. Oatmeal cookies, thumbprint cookies, carrot cake, peach pie. Perhaps 2020’s puzzling surroundings left me craving something less complex!
Azucena Rasilla: Cambodian Street Food on Foothill.
Ricky Rodas: I ate a lot of tacos, primarily from Xolo in downtown Oakland. They have great mushroom tacos and they’re not too far from where I live.
Jacob Simas: Soups. I’m the primary cook in my home and I’ve been turning to soups and stews quite a bit. The one that my 10-year-old daughter and I find the most comforting is a traditional Mexican soup, pozole (my mother’s recipe). Accompanied by handmade tortillas, when I have the time.
Jill Kunishima: Tacos. And a lot of Asian food, too — noodle soups like pho from Pho King, nam kao from Vientien Cafe, soondubu from Daol Tofu, the daily plates from Anula’s Cafe, chicken and rice from Hawking Bird, popcorn chicken and boba from iTea, Mr. Green Bubble or Sweetheart Cafe.
Doug Ng: I love breakfast and anytime I needed a morning pick-me-up I would order the 7th & Grayson — it’s a tofu scramble made spicy with harissa — at 900 Grayson. The meal comes with amazingly cripsy hashbrowns, a much better version of the kind you might get at McDonald’s or in the frozen section at Trader Joe’s.
Contributors who shared 2020 reflections:
Berkeleyside staff: Sarah Han, Nosh Editor; Doug Ng, designer and developer; Supriya Yelimeli, reporter; Tracey Taylor, Cityside and Berkeleyside co-founder and Editorial Director
Nosh writers: Joanna Della Penna, Amalya Dubrovsky, Jennifer Kaplan, Anna Mindess, Risa Nye, Kristina Sepetys, Tamara Sherman, Moriah Van Vleet, Alix Wall, Daphne White
Oaklandside staff: Natalie Orenstein, housing and homelessness reporter; Jacob Simas, Managing Editor; Azucena Rasilla, arts and community reporter; Ricky Rodas, immigrant small business reporter
Cityside staff: Lance Knobel, Cityside and Berkeleyside co-founder and CEO; Jill Kunishima, Vice President of Development; Colleen Leary, Director, Client Partnerships