A Hawaiian Oasis Hidden Away From The Santa Cruz Tourists

When people hear "California", visions of sun-soaked, brah-filled, coastal, Southern California beach towns usually fill their minds. Imagine the level of surprise and disappointment we've seen on our unknowing out-of-towner guests' faces when they come to visit us in San Francisco and are faced with our unusual patchwork of foggy and rather chilly micro-climates instead of a permanent summer. It always throws them for a (disappointed) loop. Really, Nor-Cal and So-Cal are so extremely different that it would probably make sense to consider them two separate states, but that's a whole 'nother conversation.But, there is a place like this dreamlike version of California that does exist in Nor-Cal and it's actually not that far from San Francisco. This place actually has that stereotypical beach bum vibe where surfers and skaters live their carefree suntanned lifestyles and tourists flock to catch rays of sunshine. This place is Santa Cruz.

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Where to Go For Boatloads of Fresh Sushi That Paddle Right Up to You

The Japan Center Mall is a mysterious maze-like shopping center full of stalls selling Asian miscellany and a wide variety of authentic Asian eats. There are many places you could choose to eat at – with specialists for just about every Japanese food type you could think of. There are in fact a number of sushi options, but there is only one sushi purveyor inside of this massive mall that I find myself consistently returning to. It's called Isobune and its a truly special place.

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Asian Inspired Brunch at Kitchen Door in the Napa Oxbow Market

Here's the thing about Napa. It's pretty freaking expensive everywhere. Between the wineries and their extra pricey tastings and the extremely high-end eateries, it's pretty easy to burn through a lot of cash quickly in Napa. Even if you actually want a meal on the cheaper side, it's not so easy to find anything that's actually good so it takes a bit more digging and information than most places and you're still likely to end up disappointed. But, I do actually know of some great meals that can be had in Napa for less than an arm and a leg and I'm happy to share this info with you.

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Date Night with Fancy, Open-Faced Sandwiches at Tartinery in Nolita

I'd never thought to go to Tartinery in Nolita before, but I'll be damned if that place wasn't an absolutely perfect spot for an impressive first date. You wouldn't know it from the street, but inside the understated exterior of this restaurant there's an incredibly sexy, well-thought-out, subterranean dining room with large vaulted ceilings with exposed brick walls accented by lots of black iron and flickering candle lights. It's a really incredible space and if you're looking to put the vibe in the air, this place is perfect for that.The menu is also great for two people getting to know each other. It features a vast array of French-inspired open-faced sandwiches known as tartines. And there's a wide selection of very accessible toppings offered – so you know that picky eater Tinder first date is going to be able to find something they can eat – yes, even vegetarians.

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Mike Winston’s Best Bites of 2014

What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too.Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year's, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let's begin!And if you wanna hear about the 2014's Best Cocktails, read more here.

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Get a Real, Delicious, Cheap Taste of Italy at Fiat Café in Nolita

I told you guys I'd be back. I knew you couldn't keep me away from New York for too long. And Thanksgiving was just the right occasion to come back East for a few days of powering through my old stomping ground. To be honest, this rampage sort of turned into a food and drink greatest hits extravaganza. You'll see what I mean when I get around to publishing everything I ate...Anyway, while in SF, one of the things I've been missing most from my time in NY is access to great, simple, Italian comfort food. I just haven't been able to find a reliable red sauce joint out here yet. So, I made sure that one of my first stops in NY was at one of my old NYC favorites, Fiat Café in Nolita, for a cheap, filling, and reliably delicious meal.

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A Perfect Balance of Quality, Price, and Value at Live Sushi Bar in Potrero Hill

It's not always easy finding a great sushi place in San Francisco. Often times the quality at inexpensive spots is unacceptable and the high-quality places are just way too expensive. And if you can manage to find an excellent and reasonably priced spot like Domo Sushi, it'll constantly be plagued by long lines and waits due to its extremely popular Hayes Valley location. That's why I was so happy to find Live Sushi Bar in the less trafficked Potrero Hill neighborhood. It has consistently proven its ability to hit that sweet spot of freshness, price, value, and ease of access. And I know you'll love it too.

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Winner Winner Pasta & Cocktail Dinner at Zero Zero in SoMa

If you've read at all about the SF dining scene, it would be difficult to avoid hearing about Zero Zero. They've been written up in just about every major and minor publication for their upscale Neapolitan pizzas and cocktails, but prior to this visit I just never had any reason to head over to that Northeastern part of SoMa for a meal. But one day I found myself in that part of town at around 10 PM hungry and in need of a good cocktail or two, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see what the hype was all about.

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Exciting, Eclectic, Global Cuisine at Public Restaurant in Nolita

20140730_190223_editAfter knocking out two date nights from our NYC Bucket List and before relocating to San Francisco, we had time for one final meal with my family the evening before our departure. Public Restaurant was chosen by my mom firstly for it's super-convenient location in Nolita but mostly because, and I quote, "it sounds like it's got your kind of food". That could be taken any number of ways, but I'll just assume it's because the menu is loaded up with unusual sounding game meat and other interesting sounding ingredients together in strange combinations and preparations. Yes Mom, that does sound like my kind of place indeed.

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