The fare at bistros is most frequently characterized by down-to-earth home cooking. But the Bay Area is upping the ante and creating big robust flavors with creative twists on old classics. While many may look to San Francisco to keep a pulse on foodie happenings, the East Bay is attracting talent and creating its own culinary center. Here are five East Bay bistros worth your attention.

Photo Credit: Artisan Bistro

Artisan Bistro
1005 Brown Ave
Lafayette, CA 94549
(925) 962-0882

Located in Lafayette, Artisan Bistro is serving up California French cuisine with locally grown, sustainable ingredients. Most recently, Michelin named it a 2012 Bib Gourmand Restaurant for its quality and exceptional value. The cuisine is made fresh daily by Executive Chef John Marquez, who has worked with some of the greats including Thomas Keller and Daniel Patterson. The menu offers the decadence you would expect with French cuisine with dishes like the croque monsieur or croque madame sandwich, and the lightness of local cuisine with plates like marinated organic beet salad with toasted walnuts, frisee, endives, Fuji apples, watercress, warm herbed goat cheese and walnut vinaigrette. The chef offers refined flavors with artful plating – creating a true fine-dining experience for guests.

Related: Bay Area’s Best Steakhouses

Photo Credit: Jenna Broughton

2086 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA 94704
(415) 225-6055

FIVE is a modern American bistro and bar right in the heart of Berkeley. Executive Chef Banks White, whose roots are in Southern comfort cuisine, has staged at the likes of Campton Place, Jardiniere, Chez Panisse and Bouchon. The menu changes weekly and focuses on creating simple, clean flavors with fresh, seasonal ingredients from the Berkeley Farmer’s Market. One dish that makes a regular appearance on the menu is the orzo “mac & cheese,” and it is really something special. Made with smoked gouda and accented with roasted mushrooms and a tomato jam – it is both comforting and complex. Also, named a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand Award in 2011 and 2012, FIVE is taking an innovative twist on comfort food.

Photo Credit: Local Cafe

Local Café
4395 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611
(510) 922-8249

Local Café is a quaint, 30-seat bistro in Oakland with an emphasis on serving farm-to-table creations. Its uber-fresh cuisine relies on local purveyors like Straus Family Creamery, Queen of Sheba Honey Farms, Graffeo Coffee, Inna Jam, Donkey & Goat Wines and Tara’s Organic Ice Cream. Colin Etezadi, formerly of Boot & Shoe Service, Pizzaiolo and Camino, serves as consulting chef, while Chef Jhon Gomez of Oliveto and À Côté is charged with creating seasonal menus and daily specials. Diners can enjoy lighter fare like the egg salad sandwich with celery heart, capers and watercress, or hearty dishes like the flat-iron steak with grill asparagus, celery root mash and a balsamic drizzle. Starting on May 19, diners will have another reason to rejoice – Local Café will be offering afternoon happy hour and dinner service.

Photo Credit: Pappo

2320 Central Ave
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 337-9100

In the historic Park Street district of Alameda sits Pappo, an award-winning Cal-Med bistro. Owned and operated by John Thiel, this eatery is the top Zagat-rated restaurant in the city. The menu has gained acclaim for its ingenuity and for being based on fresh ingredients produced locally. Pappo prides itself in creating menus that embrace seasonal ingredients. As such, the fare changes regularly and some of the current dishes include fried Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds with marinara dipping sauce and Liberty Ranch duck sugo with polenta cakes and rainbow chard. With its intimate dining experience combined with the Chef’s modern technique, Pappo has really become a standout in the community.

Photo Credit: Va De Vi

Va de Vi Bistro & Wine Bar
1511 Mt. Diablo Blvd
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 979-0100

Va de Vi is Catalan for “it’s all about the wine,” so it is no surprise that this has become a popular spot to dine and drink at in Walnut Creek. Chef Shane McAnelly, former sous chef at Zero Zero, has created a menu of small plates with an international flare. Its menu features bold flavors in dishes like rock shrimp avocado lumpia with wasabi-orange aioli and ponzu sauce and spicy duck meatballs with fontina, pinenuts, parmesan-pancetta brood and grilled bread. The chef also offers a variety of gluten-free options for those with dietary restrictions. But with a name like Va de Vi, it is worth checking out the wine list, which features many wines by the glass as well as pre-arranged flights.

Jenna Broughton can frequently be found exploring the streets of San Francisco looking for her next adventure and gastronomic delight. She has traveled far and wide, from Paris to Savannah, GA, to satisfy her adventurous palate. Her work can be found at